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02: A Visit From the Crown Prince
“What’s the matter, Lady Eliza? You don’t look well.”
Claudia, who had kept to the antechamber and awaited my arrival, approached me as she spoke. I had intended to maintain a false air of composure, considering that I was still in the castle grounds, but she saw right through me. It wasn’t surprising; we’d known each other for a good while.
“…The thing they asked me to do just happened to be a little worse than I expected.”
“You don’t say. Well, what is it?”
“I have to play guardian for some noble girl in another country.”
“…Well, that’s definitely something. I may not have the head for politics, but it’s obvious that there’s some ulterior political motivation behind this.”
I respond to her words, tinged with a rather sympathetic tone, with a nod. Then I allowed myself a good sighing session. There were other titbits I could consider legitimate factors, such as my own social status within the academy, or even, quite possibly, that there was some stronger influence at play.
I had good reason to suspect that the motive behind having me act as Emilia’s guardian wasn’t just relegated to the reason I’d thought of earlier on a whim.
The girl came from a country that had suffered defeat during war. To top it all off, her country was the one who instigated the battle in the first place. The idea that Emilia would be on the receiving end of ever-growing animosity in those learning facilities wasn’t at all improbable.
I wasn’t entirely sure which was worse; my own bad reputation or the ill will that had piled up on her. But in any case, keeping Emilia close by should prevent anyone from hurting her. After all… the sordidness of my reputation was accompanied by a good dose of fear.
And here was the long and short of it. I was essentially given the incredibly arduous task of protecting Emilia, while simultaneously making sure that I didn’t appear to be too comfortable around her.
…All of this was making my head hurt. While I wasn’t supposed to stay at this learning institution for too long, this was all making me want to go full truant.
“Lady Eliza. While I don’t wish to impose when you’re busy making faces, there’s someone coming over.”
Claudia gave me a nudge, and I rushed to bring my furrowed brow and scowl back to normal. I would have been in a tight spot if anyone caught me looking sour after taking orders from the King.
“Aah, there you are. Thank goodness I caught you.”
Sure enough, the person who peeked his face through the entrance to the antechamber was a resident of this castle. It was none other than Alfred, the crown prince himself.
“An honour to see you, crown prince. What appears to be the matter?”
“Well. There’s just something I have to tell you…”
The crown prince, who had managed to get this far with a solid smile, suddenly held his shoulders and slowly fell into a crouching position.
I rushed over in a panic, noticing how pale he appeared. He was even covered in cold sweat.
“Sorry… I just… rushed over… so I…”
“Please, your Majesty. Rest a while.”
I was a bit astounded that he kept trying to maintain a smile on his face, now that it was white as a sheet. I offered him my hand. When I helped support his back, I could feel him shivering. It looked as if his knees were entirely bereft of strength, and he remained unsteady in his stance. I wondered if he had come down with some kind of cold. The weather had definitely been colder as of late.
Well, I certainly didn’t have it in me to just leave him there. I decided to bring him somewhere warm… And, as poor luck would have it, there were no guards close by.
“Clau… Actually, never mind. For my discourtesy, Sire, I will apologise in advance.”
I was close to asking Claudia for help, but I changed my mind at the last second and hoisted the crown prince up on my own. I was, at this point, completely uncaring of what rumours might spread if someone happened to see us like this. But Claudia was a newly-wed. I couldn’t let her go through that.
I also didn’t have the leisure of carrying the crown prince as I would carry my own luggage, so I just held him so that he could lie. I was, in other words, carrying him bridal style. I was sure that there could be little more humiliating than this to a crown prince undergoing puberty, but… well, I had no other options. He’d just have to live it with.
“Your Highness, whereto should I carry you?”
While the crown prince definitely didn’t appear to be all that heavy, he was far more thin and delicate in my arms than I’d have guessed. He was almost frighteningly light.
Elize, whom I’d been living with until a few years ago in the Gold Coin Hill mansion, springs to mind when the blood recedes from his fingertips and they go cold.
“I can walk… I can just walk, alright…?”
“You ask too much of me, Sire. I may carry you now, but I doubt I can forever. I will be quick. I fear I don’t have the discipline to carry someone close to my age for too long…”
“R-Right… the greenhouse, then. Can you bring me to the greenhouse?”
“Of course, right away.”
I noted his request and made my way immediately. It didn’t really matter how light he was; in the end, I still couldn’t carry him forever.
“I’m sorry, Kaldia.”
I didn’t know if the crown prince had simply given up, but his eyes went dead as he quietly grabbed on to my shoulders.
It was then that I decided that Claudia, who was belly-laughing behind us, would be getting no desserts that night.