“My Lord, you want to invite your playmates to the mansion to be playmates? … Honestly, I’m confused. What do you mean?”
Wrinkling his eyebrow, Theomer put his knotted rope on the floor. He looked as if he didn’t understand me at all.
I said a few words to Earl Thelesia about allowing the children to come play with Elize, and he told me it was fine, so I went to talk to Theomer next.
“It is certainly confusing, but simply put, I just want someone to play with a girl I’m taking care of in my home.”
“Can’t you do that, My Lord? Isn’t she there to be your playmate?”
Theomer was absolutely correct. You could even say that my priorities are backwards. But…
“I can’t visit her often. Besides, she doesn’t get many chances to interact with others since she can’t walk outside.”
It was hard to visit her for a while as well, considering that I might run into Radka, who I had allowed to move around freely in the mansion.
The decisive break-up of my relationship with Radka still pierced my heart like thorns. Every time I saw Radka, it gouged the softest part of my heart.
About Kamil, about the citizens, about the unnamed tombstone, and about myself… It’s hard to put it into words, but in the end, Radka is like a crystallisation of trauma for me. He looks like me. His life had been threatened by my father, he suffered persecution from his peers and his relationship with his mother who had turned insane. I don’t know what to think but those thoughts had slowly crept into the space where Kamil had disappeared from. Each of those thoughts were directly connected to the feelings of guilt and disgust that I had piling up inside of me like sediment.
I haven’t forgotten that he threw the stone at me.
“… Frankly, I don’t have a close aide right now.”
My thoughts got too far off track due to my emotions. I thought about how to adjust the conversation and decided to talk about the plans Earl Thelesia had proposed for this.
“What are you on about all of a sudden?”
Theomer tilted his head. His expression was saying that he couldn’t keep up with the conversation at all.
“I don’t have any candidates for the job because there aren’t any talented people around. Earl Thelesia is quite isolated for a noble, so I have little connections.”
The one and only Kamil had been trained for that position, but… he was gone.
Claudia is too useless to have by my side for anything other than a guard, and Lady Marechan is too old.
“… Oh, so that’s what you mean. So, you want them to enter the mansion as a playmate, and then have that person become a possible candidate.”
Theomer took the liberty of guessing what I was saying and came to an understanding on his own. I was extremely grateful that he understood things quickly.
“That might be the case in the long run. The original proposer of this plan is Earl Thelesia after all.”
Wanting someone to talk to Elize and wanting a candidate as my close aids are two different things, and it wasn’t a means to an end.
Well, it should seem promising.
They were being treated exceptionally well as an immediate asset right now, but objectively speaking, the position of the newcomers was still relatively weak compared to the fief citizens. The citizens aren’t directly involved with the management of the fief, so they strongly viewed the newcomers as strangers.
However, that would change a lot if the feudal lord’s close aid is a newcomer. No matter what kind of sentiments the citizens may have, the influence that the feudal lord has in their fief is boundless.
“… I can’t agree to this without talking to the other chiefs as well. Just a warning. I can only give you permission to take them to the mansion, but it’s up to them to decide whether they actually want to go or not.”
“I don’t mind.”
If the person hates it, then even the feudal lord’s command won’t get them to act. At any rate, they would be accompanying a guest of honour. Adults might not like it since they’ll be working, but I’m inviting a child, so I would prefer it if it was someone who would enjoy talking to Elize.
And I’m not suggesting that they should live in the mansion. I’m going to send them to the settlement with the other newcomers after winter, and after that, it’s alright for them to come to the mansion in summer when I’m usually away from the fief.
Being a candidate for my close aid isn’t something I can talk about right now, nor is it a sure thing.
“So, who do you have in mind?”
“That was quick.”
“She took care of me a lot at the tent… I’m really grateful for her concern. She’s attentive and good at explaining things, I’m sure she’ll make the perfect companion for a lady.”
She has been very patient with me even though I suddenly interrupted their lives. She has helped me so much. When I thought about the things she had done for me, my chest started to warm and, at the same time, I felt embarrassed.
“Alright. I’ll talk to the other chiefs tomorrow.”
After our conversation was done, Theomer quickly went back to making the rope. I was confused as to how to use the little time I had left until dinner since I didn’t have anything more to do today. However, I decided to watch Theomer skilfully knot the hemp rope.
Ropes were something that the citizens also made, but I’ve never seen anyone make them before. I was genuinely curious.
Theomer looked at the rope in silence for a few minutes, then eventually turned around and looked at me.
“… What are you looking at?”
“You making a rope.”
“Ah… Shall I show you how to make it?”
He even told me that it was hard to work since he could feel eyes on him. Just ignore me.
“I’ll learn for future reference.”
Theomer gave me a somewhat warm look as I nodded and moved next to him. What the fuck is that look for?
It was already the beginning of spring as the snow began to stop falling and the sun began to shine through the thick clouds. The bright yellow pheasant’s eye peeked out from the thin layer of snow, and the wind from Amon Nohl softened, causing the rivers in the fief to rise and flood the unfinished Sera River downstream.
“But we’ll be able to stay there next winter, right? I’m certain of it.”
“It’s hard to move around in winter. I’m sure the adults will finish the bank by then.”
“I hope we get to live in a proper village soon.”
The flat Kaldia fief could be seen for quite a distance from the top of the slightly elevated Golden Hill.
I watched as the three childhood friends, Aslan, Thiele and Rekha, squint while staring to the east. I had invited them to visit Elize’s room once every few days. While listening to two of them converse, I interrupted them while thinking I might have said too much.
“… There will be a lot of artisans coming from the rest of the kingdom to make furniture and things. This will allow the adults to get on with other work.”
“Oh, I know that! Eliza-sama hired them, didn’t you?”
Rekha turned around and flashed me a smile. I nodded vaguely in embarrassment, but Rekha and Thiele both grabbed onto my arms and bounced happily.
“I can’t wait. I wonder if your castle will be done soon too.”
Rekha usually talked in a calm manner and ended his sentences in a sluggish way, but he spoke clearly and quickly, probably because he was excited. Thiele, who was also dragged in, always looked after me and had an older sister disposition, so she went along with him.
“I think that would still take some time. Even though it’s a small castle, it will take approximately five years.”
I knew that I would be hampering his joy, but I gave him the schedule just in case. This was because we are working on the village first, so the longer the village work is delayed, the longer the castle construction period will be.
Rekha sulked. He pouted his lips and knitted his eyebrows together.
“Eeh~, then I don’t mind if the bank isn’t built after all. I don’t want to spend a winter without Eliza-sama. Say, Eliza-sama, you have to make sure that we come here next winter too.”
“Hey, Rekha. Don’t annoy Eliza-sama with your selfishness.”
“And even if we move to the settlement next year, Eliza-sama might not come?”
Rekha huffed and fell silent after being rebuked by Thiele and Aslan. I smiled wryly, and reached my hand out to his head, then tapped his head lightly after hesitating for a bit.
“I’ll come see you as much as I can until the castle is built.”
Children really are simple, and their emotions change all over the place. Rekha cheered up and burst out into laughter. Then he raced towards the horse he had left and nimbly jumped on.
“I’m going home first to make lunch!”
After saying that, Rekha went down the hill in a flash before anyone had the chance to reply. The three of us who were left, Thiele, Aslan and I, all looked at each other and smiled wryly.
Claudia sat rudely at the writing desk while swinging her legs. The spring sunshine shone through the window behind her, and the backlighting made it impossible to see her expression.
I counted the minutes of silence as I slump down on the couch that was placed in front of her.
Claudia said she had something to talk to me about. She had only called out to me this time and hadn’t jumped out of the second-floor window, so she did much better this time. But Claudia had her mouth turned at the corners as she remained silent for a long time. Is she wondering what she should say, or can she not put what she wants to say into words? Unusually, she frowned and looked conflicted.
A short while had passed since midday, and the ball inside of the water clock clinked and clicked to announce that.
Claudia raised her face in surprise. She looked troubled as she turned her gaze towards me, then finally, she hesitantly spoke.
“Eliza-dono… Huh? Elena-dono? No, no, Eliza-dono, Eliza-dono. Hmm… I would like to ask you something.”
… I applauded myself for not looking down from exhaustion. Just as I was preparing myself for a serious conversation, since she made me wait so long, she had said that.
Come to think of it, Claudia has finally started to remember my name correctly lately. Ah, I’m mentally exhausted and slightly dizzy…
I held back my sigh and replied to her.
“Yes, what is it?”
“Ah… Well… I hope you don’t get offended by what I say…”
It was unusual for Claudia to be unclear.
“It’s about what happened a while ago, but you executed the bandits that crossed the border at the beginning of winter, right? Why did you do that yourself?”
The girl in front of me tilted her head in confusion and her golden honey hair swished around.
I see, so it’s about that. My emotions didn’t go up and down, it just went straight down. Maybe this wouldn’t have happened if she had asked immediately after the incident. Claudia seemed to have easily guessed how I was feeling because of her sixth sense.
“I did it for many reasons. So, I can’t say why I did it in a few words, ――― but if I had to say it then, it’s because I wanted to kill him.”
“What about the other person? You left him in the dungeon to freeze to death…”
“About him, well. It’s because I thought it would be troublesome to kill him. I thought I’d just let him rot away without anyone knowing.”
Claudia nodded silently. She didn’t pressure me, remonstrate me, or agree with me, she only understood why I did what I had done.
Seeing that, a question swirled in my mind.
Why can’t it be Claudia?
This is another thing that I’ve learnt now; I’m very selfish. I wanted to be treated as an adult because of my previous life’s memories and did my best to appear like an adult despite looking for an adult to rely on as a child.
And yet, like with Lady Hortensio, it terrified me when someone treated me like a child, and spoiled me, since it felt like I would melt into a mess.
That’s why ――― I liked Kamil. He was important to me. The memory of Kamil, who treated me as a child, but saw me as a human, as a friend and as a feudal lord, still pierced at my heart.
Is it a sin for me to think of him like that, since I couldn’t trust him, pushed him away, then sent him to his death?
Claudia, depending on how I think about it, met the requirements. She’s as innocent as the children of the Sill Tribe, and she welcomes me as I am.
But why can’t I think of her on the same level as Kamil? The difference between how I viewed them was very strange to me.
“Alright. I’m sorry to have taken up your time. I should have asked you earlier.”
Claudia smiled cheerfully as if her puzzled expression from before had been an illusion. Then she left the room unpretentiously.
Then, somehow, the answer to the question I had came to my mind.
I’m sure it’s because I haven’t been able to give a proper title to my relationship with her. Boss and subordinate, master and pupil, guard and principal, maid and master… someone of the same sex who is 12 years older than me. There is a huge gap lying between her and me in areas other than emotions, and I haven’t been able to measure the distance between us well.
With Kamil, it’s easier to say that we were friends now. Yes, it seemed like a no-brainer.
Surely, he and I were similar and different in just the right ways.
And I’m sure Radka is too close to me. So close that I couldn’t measure the distance between us.
I was a little relieved that I was able to honestly admit these things, which meant that my half-hearted measure of running away from home had been useful.