Chapter 29: Claude’s Real Identity
Two days after I collapsed, the haze that covered my head finally cleared.
Suddenly, I thought it was already alright.
I had no idea what was alright, but that thought immediately rose in my mind, and my heavy lids suddenly opened.
――― I’m alive.
I suddenly thought.
I had a slight headache and sore back ――― probably because I had slept for a long time ――― but the heat that was burning my body had disappeared and I felt refreshed.
I felt that the antique furniture, the white lily on the window table, and the evening scene outside the window were beautiful.
They were beautiful and sad.
I seem to have lost something when I woke up.
When I tried to remember the reason in a daze, the maid of this mansion came and looked surprised when she saw me.
“You’ve woken up?”
She was an elderly maid with a gentle face.
Her voice was slightly low for a woman and it was strangely calming.
I sluggishly sat up.
My body felt heavy and it was hard to move, but I put more effort than normal and managed to move.
“Can… I… get some water? I’m… thirsty.” Perhaps because I hadn’t used my throat in a long time, or because the heat had burnt my throat, the voice I had finally let out sounded cracked.
It sounded raspy as if it was full of phlegm, and I sounded unfriendly and unclear even though I hadn’t meant to.
However, the maid didn’t seem to mind, and she poured me a glass of water before passing it to me.
She waited for me to finish drinking and asked, “How are you feeling? Do you feel a bit better?”
I nodded, “Yes, a lot better,” I answered in a raspy voice and the maid smiled in relief, “That’s good.”
“Your throat still seems sore, but that’ll get better soon. When you catch a cold, you heal faster if you have a fever. ――― Shall I wipe your body? You’ve been sweating a lot, so I’m sure you’d like to change?”
It was embarrassing to show my skin to an unfamiliar woman, but I still can’t move my body the way I want to, so I decided to get her help.
Before I knew it, my pyjamas were taken off, she wiped my body with a wet cloth that had been soaked in warm water, and even moisturized my skin with a lavender-scented cream.
“This cream makes you feel better. It also relieves your headache. I’ll wash your hair tomorrow. You still have to rest today.”
I wanted to wash my sticky hair, but if I force myself to move and get a fever again then I’ll cause more trouble for everyone.
I told myself to put up with it for another night and put on the new pyjamas.
“How is your stomach? Do you think you can eat anything?” I realised I was hungry when she asked me this, so I had her prepare a simple meal for me.
I waited for a while and she came back with vegetable potage and grated apples. There wasn’t a lot of food, but it was perfect since I hadn’t eaten anything yesterday.
My throat hurt every time I swallowed, but I endured it since I needed to eat to recover.
I also took some medicine after I finished eating. It was bitter and disgusting and was the worst medicine I’ve ever had to drink.
“Where… is Claude?”
My mind started working after I finished eating and a lot of questions popped up in my mind.
I had a lot of things I wanted to ask him, so I wanted to know where he was, but the maid replied, “He’s out.”
“He won’t be back today. If you have something to say to him, then you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”
I was dejected and sighed.
It seemed like I had to hold the ill feelings that had swelled up within me when my head started working again for a while longer.
I tried asking the maid and she laughed playfully, “Please ask Master. He told me to keep it a secret for now. ――― Do you need anything else?”
I shook my head to indicate I didn’t need anything and asked, “What’s your name?”
“My name is Monica. Monica Heather.”
I repeated her name without letting out a sound, “Monica.”
“Thank you, Monica.”
“Oh my, Miss! Those words are a waste on someone like me.”
I looked at Monica who was smiling happily and swallowed the words, “I’m already married so you shouldn’t call me Miss.”
The only servant who was happy about little things like this was Claire.
She always told me that it wasn’t necessary for me to thank servants, and she rarely gave me a satisfying reaction.
Perhaps because of that, I felt strangely ticklish on my back and couldn’t remain calm.
After Monica left the room, I got out of bed, sat on the chair by the window and pondered.
――― Everything has collapsed.
I endured the pain in my chest while remembering what had happened.
What have I been doing?
What did Orpheus, Diana and Juris think and how did they want to act?
――― I… I just… wanted that person…
I thought Orpheus and Diana were in love.
I thought that he betrayed Diana to protect his foster father’s last request and married a woman… married me who he didn’t love.
I felt sorry for them and wanted to make Orpheus happy, so I wholeheartedly acted as a bad wife and became a hateful person.
I even got myself a fake lover.
By doing so, I was justifying the relationship between the two of them and wanted the servants and everyone in the world to recognise their relationship.
Orpheus should have been fed up with me and we would have been divorced.
And it was going very well.
Orpheus distanced himself from me and our relationship had gotten so cold that we couldn’t have a decent conversation.
If I shook it a bit, then I would have made a shock and the cracks in the relationship would have been finalised.
The gears that were meshing together began to go crazy after that man came.
Everything became weird after that man came.
Juris protected me and Orpheus bought me from that man.
He had our parent and child relationship cut off with a large sum of money.
He did that to protect me.
And, he said he wouldn’t divorce me.
He said that he won’t let me go no matter what happens.
――― I thought that his foster father’s last request was that important to him.
A few days later, I learnt of Juris’s feelings.
He confessed that he loves Diana and wished her happiness.
I became more desperate since I wanted to fulfil everyone’s wishes.
I didn’t care about how I was acting so that Orpheus would divorce me faster.
I made Orpheus feel uncomfortable and flirted with him.
I pushed Diana to make Orpheus angry.
――― Because Diana said she was leaving.
But everything was a farce.
The tragedy drama was a humorous comedy when the lid was opened.
The person Diana loves is Juris. Not Orpheus.
Orpheus also doesn’t love Diana…
Diana confessed her feelings to Juris, but he didn’t accept them.
He loves her, but he couldn’t accept her feelings.
Because they had different social standings and he couldn’t think of a way to apologise to me.
They both feel the same way about each other, but they were distancing themselves from each other because of their feelings of guilt towards me.
――― Should I have convinced them?
I was stunned and flew out of the mansion on impulse, but I had met Juris in front of the laundry room before all this had happened.
Should I have tried to convince them even though I would have been a little rough and gave him reasons to accept Diana’s feelings without having to separate?
If I had done so, then would it have yielded a slightly different result?
――― Even though I want them to be happy.
I don’t hold anything against them.
I understand their feelings so well.
Don’t worry about me and don’t be bound by guilt. I want you to be happy.
I want you two to love each other until the end.
If you don’t, then the things I’ve done will really be wasted.
Only my sin of getting a lot of people involved and hurting them will remain.
――― I wonder if I can still make it in time?
Orpheus and I might not be able to fix our relationship anymore.
He had said those things, but I don’t deserve to be by his side.
I can’t stay when I’ve stirred things up this much.
Therefore, I want Diana and Juris to be happy. I want them to be together from now on.
I just want to avoid everyone going their separate ways.
By any means.
“What should I do?” I whispered as I looked out at the summery sky which was turning dark.
What should I do?
How do I convince the two of them?
“What can I do?”
What can I do to make it up to Orpheus?
What can I do to make him happy this time?
I looked up at the red sky.
What will happen to the clown once the curtain closes?
I was only acting, but I became a real clown before I even realised it…
“Orpheus, I’m…” My whisper was sucked into the piercing silence and disappeared.
The answer was, of course, nowhere to be heard.
The next day after breakfast, I went to the bathroom and Monica helped me wash my hair and body.
I haven’t had a bath in a long time, and it felt really good. It was completely different from being wiped clean with a damp cloth.
The doctor came when my long hair was dry. He examined me and said, “Don’t overdo it because your throat is swollen. Please rest.”
I don’t need to sleep, but he said I should avoid going outside or moving around.
The doctor left and this time Claude came. He smiled brightly as soon as he saw my face.
“Hey, how are you feeling?”
“I’ve gotten a lot better,” I replied while feeling relieved at seeing his friendly smile.
Claude’s hair was messy today as well. He wore a simple shirt and black trousers and didn’t look like the master of this splendid mansion.
He looked like a commoner who might be seen walking around town.
“Have you eaten?”
“I have. Not only this morning, but last night as well.”
“That’s good. Phelia, you look fine, but you sound horrible. You sound like a wrinkled old grandma.”
“But this is still better than yesterday.”
Yesterday, I could only emit a small voice and my words were choppy, so it took me a long time to finish talking.
My voice was cracked today, but I didn’t pause while speaking.
“Really? Isn’t it hard to talk?”
“It’s fine. Hmm, Claude…”
“Yeah. I know. Well then, I’ll tell you all the secrets I have been keeping until now. I’ll listen to your story too.”
“Do you have time?”
“I don’t have any plans for today, so it’s fine. Yesterday, I finished the work I had to do today as well. I wanted to take my time to talk with you.”
Monica prepared tea and we sat face to face on the chairs by the window.
“My real name is…” Claude said with a profound smile after he took a sip of the fragrant tea which smelled like herbal tea.
“It’s pointlessly long. My name is Claudias. Claudias Johan Schroden Valkenburg.”
Is there a noble family with that name? I searched through my memory and froze.
The house who bears that name is the most precious house in this country…
“Yes. It’s probably what you’re thinking. I’m, you know, part of the royal family. The Seventh Prince, Claudias. My father is the current King, Wilhelm III, and my mother is the Fourth Queen, Elizabeth Antoinette von Schroden. My mother passed away five years ago.”
I was glad that I had placed the white porcelain cup back onto the table.
If it had been in my hand, then I probably would have dropped it and spilled tea all over the dress I had borrowed.
――― This man… is the Prince?
The present King, Wilhelm III, has six consorts, so he has a lot of children as well.
There are eight princes and five princesses but I never imagined that Claude was one of them.
I froze like a stone statue from the shock and my mouth was agape. Claude asked something he didn’t need to ask, “Are you surprised?”
――― So why is he still hiding his identity like this?
Claude has been exhibiting his paintings in various exhibitions even after he gained a certain reputation as a painter, he has also won awards and has exposed his face in front of many people.
If he were really a part of the royal family, then he would have been exposed a long time ago and people would talk about him.
Moreover, the Seventh Prince patronages various art fields and he holds a public exhibition which can be called a gateway for new artists once a year at the centre of the capital for paintings.
Claude and I also met at a public exhibition that was held by the Prince, but his social position should have been known to the nobles and artists.
“I’m an eccentric who rarely shows my face in high society, and when I do appear in public, I look completely different from a painter, so most people won’t realise I’m the Prince even if they see me. Well, they normally wouldn’t think that a member of the royal family would have messy hair and wear shabby clothes to act like a painter. I’m pretending to be a painter by misrepresenting my identity and only a handful of people know about this, including the King.”
“If I didn’t write to you beforehand, then you wouldn’t be at the apartment…” When I finally asked the question, Claude ――― no, Prince Claudias shrugged.
“I usually stay in this mansion and work at the royal palace. I do my work properly after all. I force my schedule open when you come to see me and go to meet you.”
“Can you do that? You’re a royal, but you’re pretending to be a painter…”
“I was going to quit if someone found out, but it went surprisingly well. I continued the act longer than I thought I would.”
“His Majesty allows you to do this?”
“Rather than allow, it’s more correct to say he’s given up? A lot of his sons and daughters are eccentric including the Crown Prince, so he lets us do what we want. It’s fine as long as we don’t break the law. It’s appropriate to say he’s tolerating it.”
――― Is that what it is?
I felt dizzy even though I was sitting, so I looked out the window.
Perhaps because it was built in the suburbs, the garden in this mansion was as large as the one at the Rosenstein mansion.
It was verdant and there were dark summer flowers in full bloom. There was a big fountain at the centre of the garden and water spouted from it without losing to the strong sunlight.
“Are you angry?”
When I turned back, Prince Claudias smiled weakly.
“About me lying and hiding my social status.”
I’m not angry or anything. I was stunned since this development exceeded my imagination and I couldn’t even think of any words to say.
What the heck is going on?
However, I couldn’t continue to behave shamefully in front of royalty.
I’ve already done many bad things.
I corrected my posture, pulled myself together and answered in a firm tone even though my voice was still raspy, “No. I’m surprised, I’m not angry.”
“Then, will you forgive me? Will you still be my friend as you have been?”
“If that is what you wish, Your Highness, then of course. Well, I might not be a noble soon, but if that’s alright then…”
“Don’t call me that. Call me Claude like you have been doing. Those close to me call me that, so don’t hold back.”
I can’t do something as fearful as not calling a royal by their title.
Our friendship has not changed, and my feelings towards him remain the same as before, but now that I know he’s a royalty, I need to be courteous.
However, Prince Claudias didn’t like it.
“I see. So Phelia hates me now.”
He looked up at me and my throat made a strange sound.
It’s unfair for a handsome person to make this expression.
“I don’t hate you.”
“Then, call me Claude. Right now.”
After hesitating a little, I whispered, “Claude.”
Claude, however, said something mean, “I can’t hear you. Once again.” He made me call his nickname repeatedly and I sighed in exasperation.
“Sorry, my bad. I’m already satisfied. Don’t make that face. Well, we’ve made up so it’s your turn to talk.”
Claude’s identity was so surprising that I almost forgot about it, but that was one of the reasons why I left the Rosenstein mansion.
I took a deep breath, shifted my thoughts and explained to him what happened step by step.
The feelings of the people in the Rosenstein mansion which had become clear after my father’s visit.
Confused by the shocking facts, I fled the mansion and ran away from Orpheus.
『What is your happiness? What will make you happy?』
『If you’re by my side.』
Like Orpheus had promised, he had roses delivered to my room almost every day after it got warmer.
“I don’t know what to do. What should I do?”
Claude listened silently to my story, but when I was done, he scolded me for my reckless behaviour first, then he quickly changed his tone and said gently, “What do you want to do Phelia?”
“I… want to make amends.”
“You want to make amends? Lord Rosenstein told you to stay by his side, didn’t he? He said that he’ll be happy if you’re there. Why don’t you do that?”
“But I don’t have the qualifications to stay by his side. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve hurt Orpheus.”
“I don’t think you have to worry about it too much if the person himself says it’s fine.”
It’s not fine, I shook my head.
I can’t stay by his side and pretend that I hadn’t hurt him a lot and made him go through a lot of tough times.
“You know, Phelia.”
I shook my head like a child throwing a tantrum, bit down on my lips and looked down, then something warm touched my head.
Claude reached out and patted me on the head.
“You may be looking for an answer right now. But this isn’t something you can leave to someone else. You must think about it yourself and come up with an answer. You won’t be able to move forward if you don’t. You’ll only be left with regrets.”
――― Ah, even this person won’t give me an answer?
I hung my head down.
What the heck should I do if Claude doesn’t give me an answer? What should I do from now on?
I felt alienated as if I had been thrown out. I grasped at the skirt of my white dress that was embroidered with small blue flowers.
“Why don’t you separate from Lord Rosenstein for now and think about it? This mansion is pointlessly big. It looks old and has antique furniture because of my father’s old-fashioned taste, but well, but it’s a good place to think quietly since it’s calming here. You can use this place to separate from him.”
Even though it’ll be a lot of trouble, I wonder if I can indulge in his words just because he’s a friend.
“I haven’t paid for the medicinal examination or medicine.”
“You don’t have to worry about that, but you’re still holding back. Don’t worry about it. You’re a troublesome kid. ――― So, let’s do this.”
Claude pointed his graceful finger up and declared, “It’s an order. Don’t leave this mansion until you find the answer. You can take walks, but you can’t go back to the Rosenstein mansion. Alright?”
My chest hurt and I felt sad, and my feelings made me want to cry.
Why is this person so kind?
Being nice to someone like me.
“I’ll talk to Lord Rosenstein―――”
“No, Claude. I’ll explain it to him. I’ll meet him and talk with him properly.”
There are some things I need to confirm and misunderstandings that I have to solve.
And, I haven’t apologised yet.
“He’ll probably try to take you home; will it be alright? Can you keep your promise to me?”
“It’s fine. I can. I promise.”
“Then, that’s fine,” Claude smiled.
He smiled and squinted his eyes as if he had remembered something.
“By the way… I’m returning the conversation back to my identity,” Claude said as he sipped on his cold tea.
“Your husband realised it straight away. I was dressed as a shabby painter at that time, but he bowed respectfully as soon as he saw my face. 『It’s been a while, Your Highness』, he said. We talked once at a celebration before, but he still remembers me.”
“When was that?”
“Six months ago. It was when I first started to get along with you. ――― He appeared at my exhibition. He told me to break up with you. He said he was going to take action if I don’t break up with you.”
I thought it was good that I didn’t try to drink my tea again.
Orpheus wouldn’t do something like that…
I choked and was surprised, but then I realised that was why Claude had used a condemning tone when Orpheus had come to pick me up.
“Why would Orpheus ―――”
『You’re my wife. That won’t change in the future. My feelings of wanting to protect you will never change. Even if you hate me or love another man.』I recalled the words that Orpheus coldly declared on the day my father hit me.
“I told him the truth because he’s Lord Rosenstein and it would be bad if he were to take action. I told him that I wasn’t your lover. I told him I was helping you and faking our relationship.”
“I’m sorry, I’ve told a lot of lies,” Claude said.
“It can’t be helped if you hate me and break off our friendship.”
“I won’t… do that. Please… continue.”
Claude nodded with a lonely and regrettable expression.
Or it might have appeared that way because of the lighting.
“If our relationship is broken off, then Phelia might have found a real lover, and you’ll be hated more. If you don’t want that, then tolerate the friendship between a man and a woman. I’m only interested in men, so I won’t lay my hands on her. ――― Is what I told him. It’s well-known that the Seventh Prince is interested in men, and Lord Rosenstein knew about this. He reluctantly backed down. I also said some words that forced him to back down.”
What words to make him back down?
What did Claude say to Orpheus?
But I was too afraid to ask.
I was terrified to imagine how hurt Orpheus was.
“I, you know… I always thought it was fine for you to break up with him. I wanted you to break up with that man and take things easy. I can’t love someone of the opposite sex, but I can keep them by my side and support them. I can even find you someone new to marry. I can’t help it since you’re so pitiful and I feel so sorry for you. You didn’t do anything wrong, but you were hurt and driven into a corner because that man is a moron who doesn’t think about the feelings of others. I could have pointed out the mistakes and mediated between your relationship, but I didn’t dare to. I thought that he would cause you more painful experiences if I had done so.”
I couldn’t say anything and just stared at the contents in the cup; at the amber liquid that was sitting in the cup like the surface of a calm lake.
“Actually, you know… I’ve always wanted to be close to you. To be close to Lord Rosenstein.”
“Huh?” I raised my voice in disarray and Claude violently messed up his soft blonde hair.
“I… like men… I like that kind of men. Mysterious beautiful young man. Honestly, I wanted to be Lord Rosenstein’s lover, not yours.”
“Ha… Huh, what? Is… Is… that so?”
Claude is gay.
He only loves men ――― I know this in my mind, but I feel complicated when I’m told that he saw Orpheus as a target.
If you’re that beautiful, then you will attract anyone regardless of gender.
“But I changed my mind every time I talked to you. They say he’s impeccable, but that’s only referring to his brain and appearance. He’s no good as a person. How do I say this…? I got angrier the more time passed. I couldn’t believe that he would put his cute wife through all of this. I wondered what he was thinking.”
“Hmm… I don’t think… I’m cute.”
“You are. Extremely,” Claude hit the table so hard that it made a sound and insisted.
I was taken aback by his threatening attitude and hesitated to speak.
“That’s why I tried to convince you to break up with him. I wanted him to be unhappy by doing so, and I wanted you to be happy this time. I wanted you to receive something much more wonderful than what you had lost. Something that would make you forget about your sadness straight away.”
I thought it was a fruitless effort.
We’ve been running around in circles.
Everything was in vain.
――― Everyone is thinking about each other, but why doesn’t it work out?
I crumpled up my face to hold back my tears and a calm and sincere voice sounded, “By the way, I haven’t changed my mind. I’ll protect you when you divorce Lord Rosenstein. One of the reasons your relationship was destroyed was me, so you can rely on me forever. I’ll make all your wishes come true.”
Claude is kind.
He’s so gentle that it makes me want to cry.
――― But why?
Why do I remember Orpheus at a time like this and think of him?