Several times a year, pre-social debut children of the count family and above would be invited to socialize at the royal palace. For that occasion, a small tea party would be held. If there were princesses and princes of the same generation, said the event would be held more frequently. After all, it was an opportunity to look for colleagues, future aides, and if not yet decided, fiancés.
Rufus and I were of the same age as the prince. From the perspective of a high-ranking aristocrat, Rufus had been a playmate of the crown prince since he was born. Therefore, Rufus was most likely to become his colleague.
After having told Rufus that I’d much prefer to not meet those who’d later obsess over Caroline as according to the prophecy (my game knowledge…), Rufus arranged it so that I didn’t have to participate in such events.
But things changed when we became 14-years-old.
“Forgive me, Pia. We have no choice but to participate this time. In the past, I used to tell him that Pia was sick and couldn’t get out, but the crown prince used his royal decree to make us come. How pathetic…”
Apparently, because I hadn’t participated for so long, the crown prince had taken an interest in me.
“…I’m so sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused you, Lord Rufus. I’ll make sure to attend properly from now on.”
After exchanging some greetings, it should be alright for me to withdraw to the corner, right?
That way, I won’t be a hindrance to Lord Rufus…
“No, it’s merely the result of a consensus between the Marquis of Stan and myself. After not allowing Pia to socialize for so long, we have to take responsibility. Pia, remember that you’re the treasure of the Stan family. As such, I don’t want you to breathe stagnant air filled with dirty thoughts. Pia, you must never leave my side.”
“Eh? Uhm, alright…”
Judging from his expression, Rufus seemed to be frustrated. Due to that, I hesitated to ask him a question. Thus, for the time being, I gave a short answer.
Ever since the memory of my previous life had returned, it was a first for me to visit the royal palace. In my previous life, I remembered how unrealistically beautiful the place was. However, everyone else had already visited the place many times and was accustomed to it. Most of the participants were no longer accompanied by their parents and were instead assigned one servant.
As such, I was the odd one out.
Upon arriving, I sighed deeply.
“Lady Pia, don’t be nervous!”
By the way, Sarah continued to hone her skills in the marquis’ household. As a result, she had become more dignified.
We’d meet at the academy next year. I took a deep breath and asked Sarah to confirm my appearance once again.
Now, to head to the battlefield!
I corrected my posture and opened the carriage’s door.
“What’s the matter?”
The coachman answered Sarah’s inquiry.
“Lord Rufus has come to escort you.”
Did he come all the way here? I’m so happy… But at the same time, it’d become apparent to him how nervous I am… Nevertheless, I’m still grateful.
Sarah nodded to me and opened the door.
“Pia, I’m sorry to force you to go to such a place.”
Not only was Rufus’ ultramarine hair neatly pulled up, he was also wearing a new suit. He looked so mature. Then, with light steps, he ascended into the carriage, before peering inside.
“Lord Rufus, did you realize that I’m anxious? I’m sorry for the inconvenience… To be honest with you, I’m still trembling. Thank you so much for coming to see me.”
I couldn’t deceive Rufus.
“Pia sure is honest. Be sure to not be as straightforward with anyone else, alright? Of course, I’d come, partly because I’d like to put Pia into my arms as soon as possible. The other reason is that I’d like you to wear this.”
From his pocket, Rufus took out a necklace. The necklace was studded with an astoundingly clear green jewel—emerald… In a flash, Rufus had put it around my neck. Thus, the pendant adorned my chest. I meekly asked him.
“…Are you lending me this?”
“Hm? Rather than lending it to you, all of my jewelry will eventually become yours. I’m the only child in the Stan family. Didn’t it suit the color of your dress? For Pia to wear my color …As I thought, buying this dress is the correct decision.”
“…Or more like a display of possessiveness?” Sarah casually remarked from the side. Rufus glanced at her.
“Sarah, is there a problem?”
“No? Please take good care of our Lady Pia.”
“What? Do I look unreliable?”
“Not really? The attire suits you. Well then, shall we go?”
Rufus was the first to alight from the carriage. He slowly reached out his hand to me. I took it and slowly got out of the carriage. Then, Rufus gracefully put my hand on his elbow, before whispering to me with a stern expression.
“We’re in enemy territory. You must be on your toes.”
I turned to him and said, “I understand, I won’t be in the way…”
Thus, we entered the palace.
Amidst the magnolias, a large number of young participants had already gathered. Some stood up to have a conversation, while others sat at the table to enjoy sweets and drink tea.
However, upon noticing Rufus’ appearance, there was a fuss.
Rufus pulled my waist and blocked their line of sight with his own body.
I proceeded to ask Rufus.
“…Did you just click your tongue?”
“Did I? Pia, let’s greet His Highness and then go home.”
Prompted by Rufus, I began to walk. We soon arrived at a short queue for the upper seat.
“L, Lord Rufus, it’s been a long time.”
“…Yes, it is.”
Despite being greeted by many people, Rufus didn’t waver in the slightest. When I looked up at his face, he nodded slightly.
After a bow, I listened without saying a word. To attain more knowledge about Rufus’ acquaintances, I made sure to remember the name and the face of each person.
Judging from his hair color, is that Gourd? He should be the doctor’s son…
Meanwhile, that tall man should be the knight captain’s son…
…Apparently, all the capture targets were there.
Even so, I felt that everyone was staring at me.
“It seems that a lot of people want to talk to Lord Rufus. Perhaps, they have something important to discuss? It must be difficult for you…”
“…If anything, they’re curious about your beauty. Rest assured, Pia. What business do you have with me? One of these days, I shall listen to you…”
While glancing at the surroundings, Rufus said so.
As I nervously glanced around to observe my surroundings, Rufus suddenly stopped in his tracks. Then, he gave a deep bow. I also followed suit.
“Thank you for inviting me to today’s tea party, Your Highness.”
“Well, Rufus, aren’t you being dishonest? Lady, please raise your face.”
I quietly lifted my head.
“Are you the fiancée that Rufus desperately tried to hide?”
“Greetings, my name is Pia Parmesan.”
“And here I thought that she’s a fascinating beauty… But in truth, she looks emaciated. It appears that as the rumors said, she’s indeed sickly.”
“Your Highness—! You’re being uncouth to a lady—!”
The woman standing beside the crown prince called him out.
Oh, isn’t she the marquis’ daughter, Amelia Keith?
Perhaps because Amelia was still young, she didn’t look as uptight as she was in the game. I remembered that in the game, she matched the profile of a villainess. But in reality, she looked truly adorable.
“Don’t be angry, Amelia. So, this is Rufus’ type. Well, I’m glad that we aren’t into the same type of woman. Otherwise, if Rufus was to become my enemy, I wouldn’t know how to win.”
“Like I said, Your Highness…”
Amelia shrugged as if giving up. They seemed very close to each other…
Then, the memory of my previous life returned.
At the dance hall of the academy, the prince, much taller than he was now, glared and condemned Amelia.
Unable to raise any objections, Amelia could only endure it with loathing.
…Although they seemed very close, how did their relationship change so much in just three years?
What about me?
Will Rufus and I experience the same?
Now that we have such a good, comrade-like relationship, will he still end up hating me?
“—a, Pia, Pia—!”
Before I realized it, Rufus was shaking my shoulders.
I clutched my forehead and closed my eyes.
This is not good.
I should’ve braced myself for the inevitable. Apparently, I was still the same weak, old, me.
“Lady Parmesan, you look terribly pale. You should rest.”
Amelia felt concerned about me.
As expected of the future queen…
“Y-yes, I feel truly ill. I’m so sorry, Rufus. I’d like to rest…”
The crown prince waved his hand and urged us to leave.
Along with Rufus, I bowed my head.