Act 18: Of Yesterday’s Enemies and Whatnot
A few days after the dance party at the Hale mansion.
In the laboratory, Cordelia gave a long sigh at the letter that had arrived that day also.
It had beautiful writing on a pure white envelope. Writing paper watermarked with a family crest was probably inside the envelope.
However, she didn’t care about that. If her wish could come true, then she didn’t want the envelope to be delivered to her. She had received other tea party invitations as well, but this one wasn’t a peaceful invitation.
“…..I can’t continue with my research, or relax at all, with all of these invitations arriving every day!”
Even if she had said that, it wouldn’t do for her to not open it. Cordelia gave up and opened it.
The letter, which was signed by Hazel Hale, was a challenge to a duel…… It was like a written challenge. The contents of the letter were certainly not much different from other tea party invitations. For better or for worse, it was an ordinary invitation. However, every time she went, she was the only guest, and she fell into a troublesome trap of being challenged to various contests by Hazel.
Cordelia knew that, so she wasn’t accepting all the invitations from Hazel; but she did accept them at a pace of between three to five days. At any rate, the love-letters from Hazel came every day, and it was impossible to keep refusing the invitations by saying she had things to do.
That didn’t mean that she couldn’t refuse Hazel’s invitation. Although their house rankings were the same, the Pameradia House had a longer history and, in a manner, they had a higher status. Hazel, who sent Cordelia a letter every single day, was not normal, even if their houses had the same rank.
However, she probably wouldn’t accept it if Cordelia refused, since she was so passionate.
It would be troublesome if Hazel came up with another plan, if Cordelia had refused outright, and she didn’t think it would be good if she clearly stated that Hazel was misunderstanding the relationship between her and Vernoux.
Generally speaking, Cordelia didn’t care what Hazel thought of her. But it was terrible for people to mistake the relationship between her and Vernoux just because of Hazel’s conduct. She couldn’t just ignore it until she solved this misunderstanding somehow.
“Hazel…… She’s taken an extreme interest in you, Ojou-sama.”
“Does Ojou-sama finally have a friend of the same age?”
“We would need to have a very difficult conversation in order to reach a friendly relationship.”
Ronnie spoke without a care and she evaded, while thinking back on the contests she was challenged to.
The first game was a board game. It was an encampment game and she was used to playing it. She got a complete victory.
The next game was also a board game, but this time it was a game to diminish the player’s pieces. Of course, she won. She occasionally played both of those games with Isma, so she had piled up experience with them.
She thought that the third game would also be a board game, but they debated history three times instead. Cordelia thought, “Isn’t today going to be a game too?” but was forced to realise that it was, when Hazel, who ran out of things to say, said, “I won’t lose next time, okay?”
They’d talked a lot and played many games together, but it still couldn’t be called a friendly tea party.
“Seriously, I wonder when she’ll get tired of this. That Ojou-sama named Hazel has challenged you a lot, hasn’t she Ojou-sama? She hasn’t learnt anything from this, and she can’t even admit that she’s lost.”
In contrast to Ronnie’s warm and fuzzy tone, Lara spoke with resentment, while still working. Cordelia then advised Lara, who had said something in distaste.
“Lara, that’s wrong.”
『She can’t even admit that she’d lost』…… That probably wasn’t wrong, but 『hasn’t learn anything』was probably the wrong expression to use. That was because Hazel always chose games that wouldn’t give Cordelia a disadvantage.
Once, in the past, Cordelia didn’t know the rules of a board game that Hazel had suggested. So, she bluntly asked Hazel, “Won’t you teach me the rules of this game?” If Hazel wanted to compete with her on the same level, in the first place, then Cordelia didn’t intend to ask her to change the game.
But, as soon as she saw that reaction, Hazel said, “I’ve changed my mind. Let’s play another game.” However, even Cordelia knew that she wasn’t a lady who changed her mind immediately after suggesting something. Her words were a little sharp, but that was the result of her being considerate of Cordelia. But if she considered that, then Cordelia thought that she couldn’t see through Hazel’s intent at all.
Up until now, Vernoux had never been where they were having their contests. Rather, he would be surprised if she told him that they were having contests.
(In the game, the games that Hazel-sama proposed and competed with the Heroine in were always ones that showed her good side to Vernoux-sama.)
Of course, I don’t think it’s strange that Hazel’s personality is different from the game, but if that was the case, then I don’t understand why she keeps challenging me to these games. She’s never told me to back away from Vernoux-sama if I lose.
(Why am I involved in this event, even though I’m not the Heroine……?)
Hazel-sama probably wouldn’t listen to me even if I said that Vernoux is just a childhood friend. I’m never alone with Hazel at her mansion. There’s always someone watching. Therefore, it’s hard to broach the subject of Vernoux. If so, then how do I get her to understand that I’m not her enemy?
It’s an outrageous problem, She thought as she opened today’s love-letter, and became speechless.
The gist of the letter was that Hazel wanted to visit the Pameradia House. And surprisingly, today was the day that she wanted to visit.
『I feel bad for making you come visit when you seem so busy, Cordelia-sama. Thus, I will be visiting you instead』her considerate sentences said, and at the same time, they also implied, 『Please don’t run away』. Moreover, the time when she said she was coming was drawing closer. If Cordelia had been out, then she might visit another day…… And if she pretended to be out, then the annoying matter would just be extended to another date.
“Ronnie, sorry but can you tell the gatekeeper not to let Vernoux-sama through today, if he shows up? He definitely can’t come through.”
“Understood. That boy would probably run straight home if he’s told that ‘Hazel-sama is coming’.”
Ronnie said that while looking amused. Then he smiled and left the room. She wanted to question him on why he was looking that pleased, but she didn’t have time.
Lara, on the other hand, didn’t even try to conceal her expression.
“I will be the waitress to provide back-up for Ojou-sama.”
“…… Thanks, Lara. But it’s okay, because I have Emina.”
Of course, she was still uneasy about Lara’s manners, but things would get a lot more complicated if the pouty Lara flared up at Hazel. Even if it didn’t go that far, Cordelia was uneasy that Lara would glare at Hazel, so she politely declined Lara’s offer.
After a few minutes, Hazel appeared in a dignified manner, “I quickly came here on the invitation of Cordelia-sama.”
I didn’t call you here. She appeared in such a dignified manner, so Cordelia couldn’t say something like that at all.
She greeted Hazel in the parlour.
“How do you do, Hazel-sama.”
“How do you do, Cordelia-sama. I’m really happy that you would invite me to your mansion.”
I never invited you here. Cordelia didn’t talk back, and responded with a smile.
“I’ve been thinking about this ever since the evening party at the Marquis House, but you wear an unusual fragrance, don’t you Cordelia-sama? And I’m very jealous that you have a lot of flowers in your garden.”
She was a little surprised that Hazel had genuinely complimented her. She’ll probably listen to me now, Cordelia thought as she told Emina to leave.
This is a great opportunity. It’s worth a try; this might be a good chance to clearly tell her about Vernoux-sama. We’re alone now, unlike when we are at Hazel-sama’s mansion. I feel sorry for Vernoux-sama, but I’ve already fulfilled my promise. If he wants to reject her love for him, then he should do so himself. Since this is his problem.
Hazel had already began preparing the game when Cordelia tried to talk. Hazel had put a bunch of cards and some coins on the table.
“…… Are we playing a card game this time?”
“Yes. There are different kinds of games, but do you have experience playing cards?”
“Yes, I have.”
Playing cards was the so-called poker game from her previous life. The cards of this kingdom were coloured and numbered, and they also had designs of occupations on them. Also, the designs were more important than the numbers, so the rules were a little different from normal card games. For example, the person who had two princesses had a better hand than a person who had three knights. Also, unlike other card games, the number beside the picture were not locked onto the picture, for example, if two people had two knights, then they would take the total sum of the numbers to decide who had the better hand. But the general rules were the same as poker.
“Hazel-sama, would you like to eat sweets while playing?”
“That sounds wonderful. But, I want to have them when we have a break.”
“Okay. What about the dealer? Shall I call someone?”
Honestly, she wanted to avoid calling someone else here, since it would be hard to broach the topic with Hazel, but she had no choice but to call someone else if they were to have a fair game. However, she did worry about whether Hazel would trust her if she used someone from the Pameradia House as a dealer…… But Hazel spoke nonchalantly, despite Cordelia’s idea.
“I don’t mind if you act as dealer, Cordelia-sama.”
“Oh my, really?”
“Yes. I expect that you won’t cheat.”
Hazel calmly moved the pack of cards in front of Cordelia. It was new and there were delicate patterns on the backs. The designs were carefully drawn on, and Cordelia felt that this was a considerable expensive item. She wasn’t very good at shuffling cards, but this was a game she’d played with her brother, so she had some experience.
Cordelia dealt five cards to herself and Hazel while looking a lot at Hazel.
“The rule is…… Let’s see, we each get 10 coins to start off. The minimum bet is two pieces. The first one to lose all their coins loses, is that fine?”
They both placed two coins onto the middle of the table without touching their cards. Cordelia spoke when all four coins were placed down.
“I have a proposal.”
“What is it?”
“Why don’t we copy adults and make a wager? The loser has to answer a question from the winner. How about it?”
“That sounds interesting.”
Cordelia thought that as she glided her hands to the cards like nothing happened, “Let’s start.”
(I wonder if she’s at the age where she’s overreaching herself.)
Hazel stared at Cordelia a lot, enough to say that she was observing her. Hazel stared at her an awful lot when she was placing the coins down and when her eyes were running across the cards. It was cute how she didn’t meet Cordelia’s eyes to avoid being caught. A childish mind trying to act like an adult…… Yes, she looked like she was trying to use tactics.
(Hazel-sama might think like that, but I’ll use a straightforward attack.)
Cordelia placed two of her cards down and discarded them. Hazel stared at her as she did so.
Cordelia didn’t think that the other person’s expressions were important in this game. She thought that the key to the game was reading the cards in her own hand, and maintaining her rhythm. Would she win or lose? The important thing was the trickheart of the cards.
“What will you do, Hazel-sama?”
“I’m fine with my hand.”
“Then, I’ll draw.”
Cordelia drew two cards and got a knight and king. When you need something it really comes to you, she thought. “Now, let’s reveal our cards,” Hazel said, and she did as she said.
“I have three knights, a king and a queen. This is 『Peace at the Royal Palace』, isn’t it?”
“…… A merchant, a commoner and a minstrel. And then two soldiers. I have a pair…… It’s my lost.”
Cordelia didn’t miss the fact that Hazel had gasped when she casually stated what she had.
Cordelia’s hand was pretty strong, and she was barely able to conceal her surprise. However, she acted as if nothing had happened and took four coins into her hand. I see, so she was betting on winning with a pair…… Or rather, she might have been trying to see my hand. She was probably observing what kind of combinations I preferred…… Now, what will she do?
“Won’t you shuffle the next game, Hazel-sama?”
Cordelia passed all of the cards to Hazel.
Her first hand was too strong and she didn’t want Hazel to imagine something weird.
Hazel shuffled the cards as if she was used to it. Cordelia stared at her as she did that and asked a question.
“Why did you choose a game based on luck this time?”
“I can’t seem to get luck on my side, so I thought I still have some way to go. And ――― I don’t want to lose to luck.”
Then, Cordelia held out two coins in exchanged for the cards she was dealt. She spread out her cards, cast her eyes down to look at them, and put the cards together again. She confirmed one thing with the previous win.
Hazel’s expression went stiff for a second.
She strongly grasped the cards in her hand. Cordelia got the impression that she was really honest. Hazel probably thought that Cordelia had a strong hand again. It wasn’t surprising if she was under that impression, since Cordelia had shown a strong hand from the start.
Hazel discarded two cards from her hand and drew two. Then she told Cordelia to open.
Hazel had nothing. Cordelia, on the other hand, had one pair, and it was the lowest pair at that; the minstrel.
Cordelia was convinced when Hazel looked as if she’d made a mistake.
(Hazel-sama isn’t very good at cards, and her reactions are those of a beginner. She’s too tense and I guess she has a straightforward personality to begin with.)
It’s enough if I know that.
“Hazel-sama, please distribute the cards next.”
Hazel nodded at the calm Cordelia, and mixed the cards again. Cordelia watched her silently.
Cordelia preferred to have a safe hand. She didn’t aim to have a strong hand unless something unusual happened. However, she wouldn’t do something as cowardly as keeping a weak hand. She kept her previous hand because she wanted to know Hazel’s personality.
And, she concluded that Hazel was simpler than she’d thought. Of course, it wasn’t impossible to guess that, since Hazel challenged her to contest after contest, but she was convinced after Hazel’s previous action.
(If Hazel-sama simply adjusts herself to the other person, then she’d be easy to provoke.)
If so, then the previous wager was a problem. Cordelia took a deep breath and took the next cards into her hand.
“Say, Hazel-sama. There’s something I would like to ask you.”
“What is it……? Is what I want to say, but leave that for later.”
“Because I promised you that the person who wins gets to ask a question, right?”
“…… Then, let’s do this.”
Cordelia held out five coins in front of Hazel, who looked dissatisfied. Although it wasn’t a violation of the rules to put out more than two coins, putting out five coins was the same as declaring victory. Even though Cordelia had nine coins remaining on her side, it might seem like a hasty declaration, since Hazel still had six coins.
“…… You get what would happen if I win this hand, right? The situation would be reversed.”
“Yes. I will have nine coins and Hazel-sama will have eleven.”
Cordelia replied indifferently. Then, Hazel seemed to have thought of something, as she held out five coins from her pile.
“…… Hazel-sama, is it really alright?”
“We can’t take back the coins we’ve already bet. That’s the rule, right?”
Hazel, who had betted five coins, only had one coin left. If she lost the next match, then she wouldn’t be able to able to make a bet of two, thus leading to her loss.
Cordelia looked at the cards in her hand and then at the pile of cards. Then, she shut her eyes, took a deep breath and took two cards out.
“…… Then I have to up the stage, don’t I?”
Cordelia discarded the two cards in her hand with the design facing up.
The pictures on the cards were a king and queen. Those two cards were pretty strong by themselves. Moreover, the two cards were the same colour and were thus compatible. It wasn’t normal to choose to discard them at the same time. Hazel looked at Cordelia in disbelief.
“Can I draw?”
Hazel didn’t hide her stiff tone against Cordelia, who wasn’t shaken. Hazel drew her lips together as she looked at Cordelia’s fingertips. She watched as Cordelia added two new cards to her hand.
“Hazel-sama, are you also done?”
“Yes…… I’m more worried about you. Cordelia-sama, you don’t actually know the rules, do you?”
Hazel spoke as she showed her cards; they were the same as the ones Cordelia had thrown away but in a different colour, and she also had a prince. In addition, she had a magician and knight too. She had splendidly completed the 『Order at the Royal Palace』. Cordelia smiled when she saw this.
“It’s my win, Hazel-sama.”
“What did you say?”
Hazel looked at her dubiously and Cordelia revealed her own cards.
“Four commoners and a clown…… 『Revolution Time』.”
It was a rule that changed the positions of the strong and weak cards. These five cards didn’t have any meaning on their own. However, it became the strongest because it had no meaning on their own. People didn’t usually play this game with two players, so it had a serious impact on the other player when all values were changed.
Of course, Hazel lost her complexion, even though they were playing this game with only the two of them.
Cordelia felt like she heard those words, even though Hazel hadn’t spoken them.
This is unfortunate, Cordelia let out a small breath.
“To tell you the truth, I knew that I would draw these two cards.”
Then, she tapped and pointed at the two commoner cards she’d drawn.
“Hazel-sama, you have a peculiar habit when the cards are in your hand. You have drawn the commoner card twice. You always open from the left edge and you hold it as if you’re pressing it into your left hand. And you grip the card strongly, don’t you? The edges are a little bent.”
Cordelia noted as she pointed to the left edge of the commoner’s card. There was a slight bend there.
Hazel’s face went red for a second.
“Yo-you’re so cunning!”
“This is a game where the cunning win. And it was Hazel-sama who piled these two cards together and allowed me to climb to the top.”
“Even so, you’re still cunning!”
“A game is a game. So, here is a question from me, as promised. Why do you always prepare a favourable stage for me?”
“…… What do you mean?”
“A game isn’t interesting unless we’re on even grounds. However, you always chose games that I’m good at. Why is that?”
Cordelia spoke quickly, before Hazel’s anger erupted.
And Hazel looked at Cordelia as if accusing her of saying something stupid.
“That’s because you and I have different tastes.”
“Of course, I can somehow feel that our tastes are different……”
“I want to compete against you in things you’re good at. I’m aware that Vernoux-sama isn’t interested in me at all. So, I’m not trying to make him notice me. Therefore, I want to learn the skills that the girl he cares about is good at, and become better at them than her. If I do that, then he might become interested in me, right?”
Cordelia was taken aback by how boldly Hazel had declared that. The girl named Hazel was more positive than she’d thought. Vernoux already seemed to be at the stage where he found her hard to deal with, rather than being uninterested in her.
Cordelia couldn’t say that Hazel’s foresight was completely wrong. Vernoux was probably interested in Cordelia, but not in the terms of love, because he kept calling her an 『eccentric person』. Therefore, he really wasn’t interested in her as a love interest.
Cordelia cleared her throat.
“With the way you speak, I think you’re misunderstanding something.”
“Cordelia-sama, I have answered your question, now can I ask one?”
Hazel changed the subject half-way, as if the conversation was already over, and Cordelia stared at her in surprise. Hazel didn’t look as if she felt bad about it at all.
“The condition was that the winner gets to ask the question, was it not?”
“You don’t mind since you cheated, right Cordelia-sama? You said that I’ve 『misunderstood』, but what relationship do you have with Vernoux-sama? Tell me honestly.”
“I have already mentioned it numerous times…… Vernoux is just a childhood friend.”
“I know that much!”
“…… There aren’t any other words to describe our relationship.”
“But Vernoux-sama often comes to this mansion, doesn’t he!?! I’ve heard the rumours!”
Hazel grasped both her hands and stood up, and Cordelia looked up at her in amazement. This was the first time Cordelia had heard that there was a rumour about Vernoux often visiting the Pameradia mansion. She couldn’t deny that fact, but she finally understood why Hazel wouldn’t believe Cordelia when she said that they were childhood friends.
(The seeds of trouble have been thoroughly sown by Vernoux-sama.)
Having him owe me one isn’t worth this, she thought, as she began to ponder. Why does he come to the mansion? More than half of the reasons for why he comes here is because he can’t eat sweets at home; but if I say that then I would be adding fuel to the fire. Having said that, it would be too suspicious if I stay quiet. So, I have no choice but to say the other reason.
Cordelia made up her mind.
“I am exchanging letters with Vernoux-sama’s friend, and he comes here to deliver the letters on his behalf.”
This was something that she didn’t want to tell anyone if possible. But, this situation called for it, because she didn’t have any other way to convince Hazel.
Hazel raised her eyebrow.
“…… On his behalf? Vernoux-sama, who is from a Marquis House, is delivering a letter on that person’s behalf?”
“Yes. I don’t know the details.”
Hazel looked dubious, so Cordelia was prepared for her to say something like, “How could he make Vernoux-sama do something like that!” I didn’t think about it much, since they are friends, but Gille-sama, who used Vernoux-sama, the heir of a Marquis House, as an errand boy, probably had a lot of courage. However, it isn’t strange if Vernoux-sama delivered the letters, because he wanted to eat sweets.
Hazel was at a loss for words before Cordelia thought that, but at the next second her eyes began to sparkle.
“Taking his time to deliver a letter…… Oh my…… How kind can Vernoux-sama be!”
“…… I guess so.”
“Ooh, Vernoux-sama is really sweet.”
If you asked Cordelia, she felt that he was more calculating than kind, but she agreed anyways. Even if he was calculating, he wasn’t cold. To begin with, she would definitely not say something like that to Hazel. If she did, then they would get into an unnecessary argument.
Hazel looked very happy with both hands on her red cheeks.
“Vernoux-sama stole my heart when I was five.”
Cordelia nodded along to Hazel’s suddenly confession, and she felt like this was going to be a long story.
“I was shy and almost fell, but Vernoux-sama held me up. He was just like a prince from a fairy-tale. Since then, I’ve always wanted to be reflected in his eyes, and I wanted to talk to him more.”
“…… Is that so?”
“I heard that Vernoux-sama always visits you, so I swore that I wouldn’t lost to you. But if this is because of his big heart…… Then I’m really embarrassed.”
Hazel said that cutely, while her cheeks were flushed; she was in full maiden mode.
However, it’s too late for her to be acting like this, since she is the person who keeps on challenging me to games over and over again…… No, I can’t think like that. This might finally be my chance. I really want to resolve this misunderstanding now.
“So, what relationship do you have with Vernoux-sama’s friend……? His friend is male, right?”
Cordelia immediately answered, “He is.” She didn’t know what would happen this time if Hazel thought that Vernoux’s friend was female. She had a strong hunch that Hazel would immediately demand to meet that person. No, she would probably demand it.
Hazel showed a blatant relieved expression, and Cordelia vaguely felt that she really liked Vernoux. If she wasn’t feeling tired, then she would definitely find it charming. Yes, if she wasn’t tired. She felt exhausted right now.
In contrast to Cordelia, Hazel seemed relaxed and she questioned Cordelia without giving her a moment to breath.
“Does Cordelia-sama and…… your friend, have the same feelings?”
Cordelia stopped herself from spurting and stared at Hazel.
How dreadful. Is this what girls in love talk about……? She thought. However, contrary to her thoughts, she didn’t forget to smile and replied calmly to Hazel.
“Gille-sama is a friend.”
“Oh my, so his name is Gille-sama!”
Hazel was gripping both her hands and Cordelia felt like stepping back.
I don’t have anything I could talk to Hazel about. The answer that Hazel-sama is anticipating isn’t coming. It would be strange for me to talk about the contents of the letters and if I say, “I danced with him at the Marquis’ House the other night,” then she would go out of control. Definitely. I have to avoid this somehow…… She thought that but Hazel didn’t let her off easily.
“We have to do that!”
“I’ve read about talking all night with a good friend before in a book…… I want to do that. So, Cordelia-sama, please sleep over at my house!”
“…… Excuse me?”
Cordelia froze at the unexpected invitation.
An invitation to a sleepover?
(No, I wonder when we were recognised as friends……)
At this time, Cordelia didn’t think about whether sleepovers existed for female nobles, because if it didn’t then Hazel would make it happen. She wouldn’t be surprised at whatever Hazel declared…… But she couldn’t help but feel perplexed at that recognition.
She didn’t intend to refuse. Or rather, she wasn’t able to refuse in this situation…… Even so, it was too impulsive.
“We can draw and embroider in the day time. Let’s have a lot of fun.”
“Drawing and embroidery….. Is it?”
“Yes, of course we’ll talk about love as well! We’ll also talk about your fragrances!”
The thing that Cordelia thought as she looked at Hazel, who was smiling her best smile, was; there are a lot of things that she’s good at, even if there are somethings that she’s bad at.