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“Today is your day, so make sure to enjoy it to the fullest.”
Isaac looked extremely surprised by Alex’s willingness to step down.
After the tourney, the maids of our family gave out the handmade cookies that the Valentine household was so proud of to all of the knights. To be frank, I can guarantee the ones that the maids baked are better than the ones I baked.
“Jeeze. I was no match for you.”
Sir Justin, who competed and lost fair and square, approached us while rubbing the bruised spot where he had been struck by the back of Isaac’s sword earlier.
Although they had been sparring, I still felt a little sorry for him since he had been struck and injured by my brother Isaac, so I held out a cookie that the maids had baked.
“It was a good match.”
“Thank you. You’re as beautiful as I’ve heard.”
It’s only natural since I resemble my mother. It’s a compliment that I’m used to hearing, but somehow the atmosphere surrounding the two men standing over has become strange.
“What are you saying to my younger sister, Sir Justin?”
“You two are too close.”
“Oops. It seems I’m in trouble.”
Sir Justin obediently walked away while laughing heartily, leaving just the unfamiliar sound of his laughter in his wake. What the heck is up with him?
I handed out more cookies, then gave the Crown Prince a bunch of the leftover cookies.
“If you’re that hungry, eat all of this.”
The sweet fragrance was overwhelming. I gave him a lot because he seemed pretty hungry, but Alex shook his head and passed the cookies to some other knights.
“Next time. I want to eat some that you’ve baked yourself.”
I guess he’s full since he refused the cookies that I gave him. Anyway, since I’d finished up all of my business, I clung to Isaac’s arm.
“Well then, Your Highness. Please excuse us.”
“Are you going home now?”
“We’re going on a family trip soon, so we have to prepare in advance. Right, brother?”
“Yep. Ciel has decided to sleep next to me on the trip, right?”
Hearing the words ‘family trip’, Alex stared at me with a stiff face.
“No, it’s nothing.”
Unlike the happy Isaac, Alex looked at me resentfully with an extremely disappointed expression. Is he sulking because he didn’t get a cookie that I baked?
It seemed like it would be pretty bad if we just went home like this, so I quietly whispered to Isaac.
“Brother, can I share just one cookie with the Crown Prince?”
He said that he wouldn’t back down and relinquish a cookie, but it’s different if I ask.
“Hmm. If Ciel gives me a kiss on the cheek, then it’s fine.”
For some unknown reason, my brother generously gave me permission. Normally, I wouldn’t listen to his requests, but he was victorious today, so I was happy to do it.
“Thank you, brother. As expected, Isaac is the best!”
Alex’s expression contorted fiercely as I kissed Isaac on the cheek. In comparison, Isaac could not hide the smile on his smug face.
Is he jealous? I hurriedly grabbed the cookie that Isaac had given up and ran over to Alex, who was repeatedly clenching and releasing the grip on his sword.
“Your Highness, please take this.”
“Brother Isaac made a special concession, so you have to get along with each other.”
No matter what happens, those two should never fight. Alex looked at me with somewhat sad eyes and then nodded.
* * *
After handing out the cookies, we headed home. The knights waved to our carriage which was engraved with the Valentine crest.
Waving out the window, I stealthily sat down next to Isaac and leaned my head on his shoulder.
“You were really cool today.”
“I’m the one who should be thankful, Ciel. You came out here for me, didn’t you?”
In fact, I don’t like being in front of others. And I really don’t like getting attention like I did today. I’m satisfied with handing the spotlight to Clara and quietly reaping the benefits from behind her back.
Even if I don’t say anything, Isaac understands me. If we grow up and Isaac finds someone he likes other than me…
I know it’s a really selfish thought, but it still makes me upset.
Someday… Someday that day will come, but for now he’s just my brother. I deliberately acted like a spoiled child and hugged Isaac’s neck.
“I know how much you cherish me.”
“Whatever I do, you’ll always be on my side, right?”
Once I enter the Crown Prince’s palace, I’ll start to confront Princess Lotte in earnest. At that time, I definitely won’t be able to do it on my own.
Right now I need more allies that I can trust. In order to protect everyone in the Valentine family from the story that has already begun…
“Of course. As long as I’m here, no one can threaten you.”
“Thank you, brother. And you must never fight with the Crown Prince. Okay?”
Even though his reply was a bit unreliable in the end, I expressed my thoughts clearly, so it should be okay.
I’m sure it won’t be an easy journey, but I’m not alone. I gripped Isaac’s hand firmly and recalled the future events that would be coming up. I’ll enter the palace right after my vacation, so there’s still a long road ahead of me.
What kinds of things will happen when I enter the palace? I still have a mountain of things to prepare, but I’m already tired.
“If you’re sleepy, close your eyes for a bit.”
Maybe I’m so tired because I did too much today. Cradled in Isaac’s arms, I quietly closed my eyes.
Let’s worry about tomorrow’s problems tomorrow. Amen.
- Before entering the palace, summer vacation
A few days after Isaac’s visit to the Order of the Blue Dragon, an official banquet was held at the palace under the auspices of the Emperor.
It was a gathering of all the leading nobles of the capital, including our ducal Valentine family. After receiving the Emperor’s official invitation, I, and all of my family, entered the palace.
It’d been a really long time since we’d gone to such an important place, so my mom paid special attention to how Clara and I were dressed.
With pure white marble columns, immensely high ceilings, and antique decor, the banquet hall of the Imperial Palace was brimming with dignity.
Wearing a heavy-looking crown, the Emperor was draped in a golden cape trimmed with leopard fur. ‘Royal Princess’ Charlotte was sitting next to him, looking down from atop the dias with an expressionless face as usual.
Since the Princess was acting as the empress, the two of them were sitting side by side. But the position of her child’s seat belied the authority of Princess Lotte.
Two chairs had been prepared ‘side by side’ beneath the Emperor and the Princess. The chair on the Emperor’s side was empty while Stan was already sitting in the chair on the Princess’ side.
Despite being crowned as the Crown Prince, Alex’s position is virtually identical to that of Stan, the Grand Duke of Winterbaum. Their arrangement is a tacit signal of how powerful the Princess’ authority is.
There’s still a long way to go.
We had discussed our seating in advance. I sat between my mom and dad, and my sister and brothers sat behind us.
“I have an announcement to make at this banquet.”
The Emperor rose from his seat. Everyone who was sitting stood up and the huge banquet hall doors opened.
Alex appeared wearing the symbol of the Crown Prince, a crimson cape. His dark blue hair matched his dark formal wear and cape, and his red eyes gleamed.
“I would like to commend you for clearing away the people that were distributing drugs and disrupting the public morals of the capital. Crown Prince, you may approach.”
“My deepest gratitude, Your Majesty.”
After the long investigation had concluded, there had been some success in arresting those involved.
The Emperor hosted this banquet for his son because he had succeeded in uprooting everything related to the drugs without missing a single root.
Of course, no one knew that my brothers and I had helped.
Alex knelt down before the Emperor and opened his mouth to speak.
“Your Majesty, I have a request for you.”
“What is it?”
“The pharmacist Clara Valentine, a young lady of the Duke Valentine family, was a great help during this investigation.
It was a request to appoint Clara as his exclusive pharmacist because her abilities had helped with the investigation. Despite being an adopted daughter, she was still the daughter of a ducal family, so the Emperor turned to my dad for his opinion.
“You have a splendid child, Duke Valentine.”
“I am grateful for your generous offer. If His Majesty holds my daughter’s talents in such high regard, then I will gladly let her go.”
After hearing that Clara would become the Crown Prince’s exclusive pharmacist, the crowd around us began to stir. When the atmosphere died down, the Emperor seized the moment and looked furtively in my direction.
“An unmarried young lady entering the palace may lead to needless misconceptions.”
“With Your Majesty’s permission, I would like for her to enter the palace accompanied by my youngest daughter.”
This is what’s often referred to as a ‘pre-planned game of Go-Stop’.* My dad and the Emperor matched each other beat for beat.
*Note: Go-Stop is a Korean card game. ‘짜고치는 고스톱’ refers to a situation in which two people collude in advance to fix the game in order rip off someone else.
“Then I will gladly accept your youngest daughter as an ‘esteemed guest’.”
“I am deeply grateful for your consideration.”
My older sister was appointed as the Crown Prince’s official pharmacist, and I was named an ‘esteemed guest’ by the Emperor himself.
Clara becoming an official pharmacist had already been quite extraordinary, but when the Emperor mentioned me directly, the buzz of the crowd around us exploded.
Since that day, rumors have spread like crazy about whom the Emperor would match with the Crown Prince between my older sister and me.
Of course people naturally misunderstood and thought it was me. Due to Theo’s manipulation of the media, more than simply covering up suspicions of Clara involvement with drugs, rumors started to spread that my older sister had deliberately been lured to the palace in order to force me to enter as well.
“It’s become common knowledge everywhere that the Crown Prince has his heart set on you, Ciel.”
“I’m glad. Theo, thank you so much.”
My older brother had gone through a lot in order to spread those false rumors. Seeing my wide grin, Theo made a somewhat troubled face.
“You seem to like it a lot.”
“So what? It happens.”
Everything is going as planned. Although the intermediate steps changed a little from the original story, it’s a good sign that the alliance between Alex and the Valentine family has solidified.
Let’s just keep getting along like this and not become enemies in the future. Yes, absolutely!