To reach the capital of Verde, the royal magic train, which runs non-stop to the destination without any stops along the way, takes about four days. Akardi, although a small country stretched east to west, is a considerably vast nation that occupies more than half of the continent, excluding the demon realm, and its capital is far away. If the train didn’t exist, I probably wouldn’t have traveled back and forth so frequently, and maybe I wouldn’t have been as close to Diark… but those are just random thoughts. It’s escapism because, well, why not.
“I’m not happy that the purpose is the third princess’s birthday celebration, but. . . I’m really happy to be able to be with Ester like this every day.”
Sitting close to me, wrapping his arm around my waist and pulling me close, Theodore sits next to me on the sofa with a cheerful smile. I have to divert my attention, otherwise I’ll get all flustered and even my ears will turn red.
‘’I feel depressed when I think about being with the princess for several more days. I want to go home.’’
I don’t care about his kol, who keeps saying the opposite things. I don’t care.
‘’I wish I could move to another car at least, but. . . I can’t say it.’’
I don’t care──but I do care!
“Theodore, I’m sorry, but can you leave me alone for a while?”
“. . .Do you really hate me, Ester?”
His sad expression as he peered into my face made me think that if he had dog ears, he would have fallen flat on his face. Oh, I didn’t want to make him look like this, so I tried not to care.
“I’m starting to feel a little sleepy, so I might lie down. So…”
I added hastily, trying to cover up my sudden thought. It was a poor excuse that would reveal my impromptu idea. However, when Theodore heard it, he breathed a sigh of relief and lifted his body, folding a blanket on his knee and patting it.
“Then please use my knee.”
“. . .Thank you for your offer.”
If I were to refuse, it might make him feel down again. Thinking that, I gathered my courage and rested my head on Theodore’s lap. His satisfied expression as his long fingers gently caress and comb through my hair felt so pleasant that I almost feel like falling asleep. I let out a relieved sigh.
But how did it end up like this? I should have been able to leave the room naturally, saying, “Please have a good rest.” If I didn’t do that, does it mean… I can trust that Theodore’s kindness is genuine?
Just as I was thinking that, he said:
“After all, I’m also Ester’s bodyguard, so I won’t leave your side.”
Oh, I see. That’s what it is.
“It’s okay because I can teleport if necessary.”
I gave a cold response, feeling a little disappointed. However, it was true that no one except the royal women of Acardi could use teleportation magic, and if I were away, I wouldn’t be a burden. I didn’t say anything wrong.
Then, I heard a long sigh, and when I looked up, Theodore was smiling wryly while stroking my hair.
“I have to become stronger so that you can feel that being by my side is the safest place for you.”
“That’s not what I meant! You are already strong enough, but I would just be a burden if I were with you.”
“That’s okay. Even if I have to carry you, I can still defeat one or two dragons without any problems.”
I wanted to say that it was a stupid thing to say, but Theodore has the ability to make me believe that he can actually do it, so it’s scary. Of course, I’ve already thought that being by Theodore’s side is the safest place.
“. . .Didn’t you used to always have your sword ready to draw at any time?”
This is not the first time that Theodore has accompanied Verde. Usually, he sits on a single-seater sofa diagonally in front of the low table, always with his hand on the hilt. While I thought that he looked good no matter what he did, it was very awkward, so I brought paperwork and maintained a silent posture.
“I thought that if I didn’t take a posture that clearly showed that I was a guard, I would be kicked out.”
“. . .I can’t deny that. But isn’t it difficult to move in that position?”
“I can use magic to do anything without using a sword.”
“Then. . .that’s fine.”
Anyway, there seems to be no way to escape from this situation, so I’ll just have to quietly rest my head on his lap.
“No matter what happens, I will protect you, so please rest assured and sleep.”
His calm voice had a gentle tone that seemed to go on forever, and I fell asleep with my head on his lap, just as he said.
From there, our journey went smoothly, and we arrived at the castle in Verde as planned.
“It’s been a while, Esterize.”
“Your Majesty, I hope you are doing well…”
“It’s fine, don’t be so formal. I think of you as my daughter.”
That day, I had the opportunity to meet with the emperor. As the ruler of this great nation, he had an imposing aura, but he was quite fond of me, so his attitude was gentle, and I relaxed after the initial greeting.
“Thank you, it’s an honor.”
“Actually, I had hoped you would become the wife of Diark or even the first princess. It’s a shame.”
I smiled wryly at his words, which were difficult to respond to. Diark was supposed to have no fiancée, but in reality, he had already been promised to a beautiful and kind daughter of a duke whom he doted on. However, to avoid becoming his weakness, which would make him a target, only a very limited number of people knew about it. So even if I ignored the fact that I was to inherit the throne, it was impossible.
“Father, please don’t increase the number of candidates for my assassination.”
The one who responded to the emperor’s words was Diark, who was present. Theodore, who was looking a little displeased, was the target of his gaze. Theodore didn’t know that Diark had a fiancée, so his irritation could be interpreted as possessiveness, but…
‘’If only she wasn’t the first princess, I wouldn’t have to be engaged to this person…’’
Theodore’s shoulders drooped as he muttered to himself. I tried to convince myself that his words were just a joke, but I couldn’t help feeling a little hurt.
“Haha, sorry, sorry. Esterize is loved by many.”
The Emperor, who seemed to have sensed Theodore’s jealousy from his expression, laughed heartily and said so.
‘’…Despite that, what is Princess Dorothea thinking? She declared in front of me and the other dignitaries that she wants to recognize Theodore as her partner for the birthday celebration, hoping to approve their engagement…but it seems like there’s no chance of that happening. Well, even if she brought him here, he is Esterize’s fiancé, so it’s not an easy decision to make.’’
I began to think of very ominous things.
It’s true that Princess Dorothea is 16 years old this year. Her two older sisters had their fiancés decided when they were 12 or 13 years old. So it wouldn’t be strange if she already had a fiancé, but apparently, she has been rejecting various marriage proposals because she can’t give up on Theodore.
‘’It’s also worrying that she was so confident…I hope nothing goes wrong.’’
I regretted bringing Theodore here so soon. I should have asked Roland instead. But I couldn’t show that on my face and gritted my teeth. This was just a story told by the Emperor’s words, and we exchanged calm conversation on the surface…I need to meet the princess as soon as possible and find out what she’s thinking.
And that opportunity came sooner than I thought.