In response to Violetta’s angry eyes, Herscherik stared with wide eyes. He was frozen in place, unable to think of what to say.
“Members of the royal family should be the model all the citizens look up to. Just like Prince Marcus!”
Herscherik blinked several times upon hearing his brother’s name pop up without any context.
“Whenever Prince Marcus appears before the citizens, he’s always majestic and elegant. There’s not a single flaw in him. His Highness overflows with talent in swordsmanship and magic… Yet, you, his younger brother, have only been complaining this whole time!”
Violetta said and huffed in anger again. Herscherik looked at her while rebooting his stalled mind.
(I agree; Mark is an amazing person…)
People respected the first prince as someone who possessed a favorable personality, appearance, and talents. But, Herscherik couldn’t understand why he was brought up at this point in the conversation.
‘Your Highness, don’t you feel any shame for calling yourself pathetic?!’
Violetta’s words echoed in his head. This weighed on his mind, and he realized that this started from a bad habit of his.
(Ah, I guess I was being too humble…)
Japanese people had a strong tendency to act humble, and since Herscherik’s previous life was one such person, he naturally possessed that personality trait and lowered his own self-worth.
His aides had told him the same thing before—that he underestimated himself too much.
(But, I feel like I’m only telling the truth. I really don’t have any talent or special skills.)
Herscherik didn’t have anything, but what he did possess were his past life’s knowledge and experience and his reliable aides.
Besides, he thought that it would be better to undersell himself than oversell. If he considered all risks and underestimated his own abilities when tweaking their strategy, he could anticipate better results if his actual skills were greater than he had expected. Conversely, if he overestimated his own abilities and based their strategy around that, it would increase the number of risks if he failed.
(But, I’m sure she’s saying that because of her position.)
Herscherik observed Violetta. It appeared that she, with her cheeks puffed out in anger, was more concerned about her older sister as she kept glancing to her side.
(Did she feel left out because I was having an exciting conversation with her beloved older sister?)
Herscherik chuckled at the thought. He found the young girl very adorable.
He had been comparing the areas he was lacking with the wonderful qualities of his older brother Marcus. If he had to say, he did feel slightly angry, but everything Violetta had said was correct and Marcus was a wonderful brother. Besides, it was very pleasant to see Violetta do her best to attract her older sister’s attention.
(Well, I won’t really get that upset over something a child says.)
Herscherik was an adult woman in her thirties in his past life, so Gene and Violetta were both children to him. It wasn’t worth it to get angry over a cheeky comment from a child.
(She’ll quiet down once she exhausts herself from speaking. Then, we’ll bring out more sweets… Whoa.)
Herscherik’s eyes fell on Kuro. He had been maintaining his perfect butler smile on his face just before, but now, he was seriously glaring at Violetta. Noticing this, Herscherik had the warm feeling in his chest suddenly purged, and cold sweat ran down his back.
(Mr. Kuro, your expressionless face is scary!)
Herscherik quickly turned to Oran. Oran was completely aware of what was happening and nodded. To prepare for the worst case and stop Kuro from acting, he moved to a suitable position.
But, all of that was needless.
“Stop it, Vio!”
The sound of a slap across the young girl’s face echoed. Violetta covered her cheek and looked up at Gene, dumbfounded. She sensed that her usually gentle older sister was truly angry, and she grew teary-eyed.
“There are things you can say and things you must not. Are you so wonderful yourself that you can condemn others?”
That question silenced Violetta, and the whole greenhouse fell silent.
“…Miss Gene, may I ask that you not be too angry with her? I am technically the one to blame here.”
Herscherik was the first to open his mouth. Technically speaking, he started everything since he ended up speaking humbly of himself out of habit.
Gene said apologetically. Violetta only looked, not saying anything. Herscherik smiled at the two.
“Oh, that’s right. Miss Violetta, I heard that you’re very good at dancing. If you’d like, can you help me with the basics?”
No one opposed Herscherik’s proposal. It was probably better than remaining inside the silent greenhouse.
The group moved to the banquet hall. It had been overflowing with people during the new year banquet, but while it seemed crowded then, it was a simply large, empty space now.
The only places with instruments and enough space to dance were the music room, exclusively used by the royal family and where Herscherik always practiced, and this room. As expected, he couldn’t take guests at his own discretion to the former, a room for the royal family’s personal use, so he decided to lead them to the latter. Kuro removed the cover off the piano installed in the banquet hall.
“Miss Gene, can you play the piano?”
“Yes, but I’ve only played as a hobby…”
“Then, please do.”
Gene nodded. Herscherik watched her head to the piano seat before looking over at Violetta. She awkwardly averted her gaze and played around with the hem of her dress with her fingers. Seeing her like this, Herscherik sensed that she must have noticed her mistake. But, she didn’t know what to say.
He walked up to her and knelt down on one knee. Then, he kindly offered her a hand. He saw that she gulped, but he remained in that position. With a smile still on his face, he continued.
“May I ask for one dance with you, Princess Violetta?”
Herscherik’s proposal caused Violetta to hesitate for a moment, but she soon placed her hand on top of his.
The two moved to the center of the hall. Gene waited till they arrived before beginning to play. No piece was designated, but she was tactful, deciding to play a comfortable piece she had often practiced.
The pair of small figures spun around on the banquet hall’s stage.
“…You’re good at dancing.”
Herscherik maintained his smile at Violetta’s compliment and was inwardly relieved. Just like with swordsmanship and horsemanship, he had an instructor for dance. But, the group of instructors still saw him as inferior to his siblings with whom they were familiar. Nevertheless, Herscherik didn’t give up and continued to practice. As a result, he could dance like a normal person.
(Hard work will be rewarded…right?)
Just from her simple compliment, Herscherik wanted to continue to practice.
“…I’m sorry about what happened before.”
As they danced, Violetta apologized in a quiet voice.
(His Highness is certainly not shameful.)
She knew this when their hands touched. The prince’s hand was covered with numerous calluses, and those calluses had all hardened. They served as proof that he had continually trained every day. And, it wasn’t just his swordsmanship. There was a callus on his middle finger from holding a pen, so Violetta knew right away that he had studied for long periods of time.
The first prince, Marcus, was someone everyone would praise as an authentic aristocrat. The ladies of high society unanimously sang their praises of him, he graduated with excellent grades from the academy, and he was presently serving the military together with the knights. Moreover, Marcus acted as the king’s proxy during events that required the royal family’s attendance, so the populace had already acknowledged him as the next king. Violetta had also seen Marcus make his appearance at such events, and his noble sight took her breath away. In her mind, princes should be overflowing with talent like him.
But, how about this blond prince showing her a kind smile before her eyes? Just as the young boy had said, he certainly lacked talent. Violetta herself was under the tutelage of first-rate instructors and said to have talent, so to her, Herscherik’s dancing was mediocre, having nothing good or bad about it. But, his steps allowed her to move easily and he matched her pace.
But that was not all. Before, when her older sister got angry at her, the boy mediated their conversation despite her speaking ill of him. Violetta wanted to wallow in shame for having compared this hardworking and gentle prince to his older brother and speaking badly of him.
“You don’t need to worry about me. Because my aides also often scold me as well.”
Herscherik saw that Violetta had her head low in shame and self-hatred, so Herscherik spoke while still dancing.
“Yes. They say that I underestimate myself too much. Although, I personally think everyone overestimates me too much.”
Herscherik chuckled and continued to speak.
“Miss Gene shouldn’t be angry anymore, so it’s fine.”
Violetta glanced over uneasily at Gene playing the piano. Gene had been occasionally glancing over at them, so when their eyes met, Violetta quickly averted her eyes.
“I’m sure she hates me…”
(That’s only natural after I said such mean things.)
She thought that she couldn’t live on if she was hated by her older sister. Tears were on the verge of spilling from her large, hazel-colored eyes.
Herscherik sensed that the girl would cry at any moment, so he purposely pulled her close with a strong turn. This was a complete change from how he had been dancing to allow for Violetta to move easily, so this move surprised her and caused the tears to recede back into her eyes.
“If you cry, you’ll ruin your makeup, you know?”
Herscherik said to Violetta and continued.
“Miss Violetta, you really love your sister, don’t you?”
“…I love my sister the most in my family. After Mother left for the Garden in Heaven, Gene was always by my side.”
Violetta’s mother passed away when the girl was only two years old. She had her father and two older brothers as family, but it was Gene who stayed beside her in place of her mother.
“I see… Then, I’m sorry for monopolizing Miss Gene before. It’s fine. I’m sure she really isn’t angry anymore. Look, you can see her anxiously looking at us in concern.”
Embarrassed that the prince saw through her childish behavior, Violetta looked over Herscherik’s shoulder to see her sister. When she did, she certainly saw her older sister looking back in concern.
(It’s just as His Highness said!)
Delighted, Violetta looked back at Herscherik. When she did, she saw his kind, green eyes in front of her. They were green like fresh leaves and sucked you in like beautiful gems. Violetta knew that her own cheeks were turning red. That was why she asked this question, in hopes of changing the topic.
“Wh-what kind of person is your mother, Lord Herscherik?”
Violetta didn’t remember much about her own mother. When she asked her older sister about her, Gene would only give a vague smile and refuse to tell her anything. That was why she wanted to know what kind of person a mother was.
But the words Herscherik uttered next betrayed her expectations.
“I’ve never met my mother.”
Violetta opened her eyes wide, so Herscherik let out a strained laugh.
“In turn for giving birth to me, she was sent to the Garden in Heaven.”
“I-Is that so…?”
Discovering this similarity between them, Violetta choked on her words.
“But, I’ve seen her in her portraits. She has the same blond hair like me, and I heard that she was loved by those in the castle.”
Herscherik said and showed a smile.
“…You don’t feel lonely?”
Violetta said, squeezing the words out of her throat.
She had an older sister. That was why even though she was disappointed that her mother wasn’t around, she didn’t feel as lonely.
“I guess I don’t.”
Herscherik continued to dance as he talked.
“I had my nanny when I was young, and although Father is busy and can’t see me often, I know that he still treasures me. I also have my brothers. Plus, my aides will stay by my side.”
Besides, he also had his memories of his past life and a goal to achieve. He missed his past life, but while he appreciated his mother for giving birth to him, he never felt loneliness from her passing.
(I might be surprisingly cold-hearted.)
Herscherik wryly smiled. But, Violetta saw that smile as one done out of loneliness.
To Herscherik, this was his true feelings, but to Violetta, she only heard him as trying to act strong.
“So, Hersche. Do you, perhaps, remember our primary objective today?”
After watching the sisters reconcile with each other and leave, Herscherik and his aides returned to his room in the outer palace to summarize today’s events. Or, more precisely, Herscherik knelt on top of the sofa and was scolded by his aides.
Herscherik left a huge gap before answering Kuro’s interrogation.
Their primary objective was ‘to make the other party refuse the engagement.’
“Despite that, you proceeded to the next step.”
Next to Kuro, Oran said, astonished.
Herscherik looked around and attempted to make some kind of excuse.
“…They didn’t seem like bad children.”
In the first place, Herscherik wasn’t the type to act maliciously towards others. Rather, he detested such deceitful behavior.
Besides, if they were arrogant, aristocratic ladies, then there were numerous ways to make them hate him. But, those ladies were normal girls. His potential fiancée, Violetta, was believed to be an arrogant, aristocratic lady. But, once he got to talk to her, he discovered that she was a wise aristocratic lady who loved her older sister, and the older sister, Gene, was reserved but understood the way things worked.
(That might have just been an act, but it didn’t seem like it to me.)
Leaving the matter of the older sister aside, such a feat was impossible for the younger sister, Violetta, in terms of age and personality. But, the older sister acted unnaturally in some aspects, or so Herscherik’s intuition said.
“Kuro, I need you to gather some information on Miss Gene, just in case.”
Herscherik thought something was a bit strange for the younger sister to be engaged before the older sister.
“Based on Miss Gene’s age, she could be Mark’s partner. He hasn’t settled on a fiancée yet, so it makes more sense for Barbasse, being the seeker of power that he is, to have his eyes set on Mark rather than me.”
Even if Gene couldn’t become the queen consort, she could be his concubine. No matter how much Marcus refused, he shouldn’t be able to easily decline the request from his retainers. But, Barbasse didn’t do that. His decision to have his second daughter marry the youngest prince was out of character.
“I think there’s something happening in the background. Kuro, I leave her investigation to you.”
After confirming that Kuro nodded, Herscherik stopped kneeling on the sofa and sat down, relinquishing himself to it.
It was true that his actions this time went completely against their plan. But, there was another reason why he didn’t feel any ill will from those girls.
(Besides, she’s pretty close age-wise to my niece…)
In his past life, Ryouko was the eldest among the three sisters, and the middle one had a niece. The young girl was in her rebellious phase and her cheekiness was on full blast. But, she was simply spoiled and truly loved her parents. She had incorrectly expressed her embarrassment of this as a stubborn attitude.
Herscherik was once an aunt who watched over his niece as she grew up. When Ryouko died, the niece was in elementary school, making her near Violetta’s age when he came to this world. It had been about seven years since then, so if nothing out of the ordinary happened, the niece should be Gene’s age now.
(I wonder how she’s doing…)
Herscherik sat properly on the sofa. From the view outside the window, he could see that evening had passed and nighttime was starting. Looking up at the sky with the stars beginning to twinkle, Herscherik pulled the last time he saw his niece from his memories.
The two aides exchanged glances as they watched their master be engrossed in his thoughts as he looked outside.
The aides had a feeling that their plan would turn out this way. Herscherik was kind to everyone. This wasn’t out of his love of humanity. Rather, it was his principle to put others before himself. Those who had their hearts moved by the prince didn’t want to leave his side. It was no exaggeration to say that two such people were presently accompanying him. They didn’t do this because of his position or talent; rather, they were charmed by his personality.
But, while Herscherik possessed a kind heart, he simultaneously acted like a mirror. And like a mirror, he reflected the attitude of those he encountered. The prince was probably doing this unconsciously, but this quality of his became quite obvious when he faced the minister. When faced with good will, he reflected good will. When faced with ill will, ill will was returned. His intuition picked up on this, and he gave the appropriate response.
If the sisters had met Herscherik with ill intentions in mind, the prince would have reciprocated, but they were far too normal for Minster Barbasse’s daughters. No, that might have been the very reason why the minister sent his daughters.
Even if Herscherik understood this, he couldn’t adopt a cold attitude toward them.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that things went exactly as the minister planned in a sense.
“…Well, there’s nothing we can do about the past.”
Oran sighed and concluded. Kuro agreed with the statement.
“Well, then I’ll head off. I leave the rest to you.”
The aides headed off to do their respective tasks. What they could do was limited at the current phase.
After putting her younger sister to sleep, Gene arrived at the front of the study belonging to Marquess Wolf Barbasse, head of the Barbasse family and her father. Whenever she stood before the stately door, her spirit fell.
(I’ll never get used to this place.)
She first came to this house five years ago on a similar winter day like today.
She was the illegitimate child born between Barbasse and a maid serving the man’s legal wife. Her mother was a beautiful woman with similarly lovely brown hair, the color of polished copper, and dark blue eyes. Barbasse had been charmed by her beauty, but she was expelled from the house by the legal wife once she was pregnant with Gene.
Such was a common story among aristocratic families. Gene’s mother passed away from sickness five years ago, and Gene was a child at that time, having no means to live. That was why she ended up relying on the stories her mother told her about her father and knocked on the front gate of the marquess’ home.
The legal wife had recently passed away at that time, so the marquess decided to acknowledge her existence and let her in to take care of the young Violetta in the mother’s place. Now that Gene thought about it, the marquess must have been concerned about rumors. But, there was also another reason.
Gene let out a deep sigh before knocking on the ominous door.
“Please excuse me, Father.”
She heard a mumbled reply from inside and entered the study. The scent of ink enveloped the room. The owner sat on the sofa in the middle with a glass of alcohol in one hand and was reading a book.
“Gene, how was the prince?”
“I have secured an arrangement for the future.”
Rather than a conversation between parent and child, this was more of a business-like report. Since both sides didn’t think much of the other as family, the conversation turned rather mechanical.
“I see. And Violetta?”
“…The child doesn’t appear to detest the idea as much as you’ve believed.”
Violetta, her younger sister who never showed any fondness towards anyone except to her, had a slightly lonely expression on her face when they returned home.
Before Violetta went to sleep, her arrogant attitude took a complete change, and she asked, “When’s the next time I can meet him?” and “If I make him some sweets, do you think His Highness will eat them?” In particular, her passion appeared to have been lit by the butler who made those many sweets. She both respected him and treated him as a rival.
In the end, she said, “It’s not that I like him. I just want to apologize for the rude attitude I gave him today!” and covered herself with the blanket in a huff.
Listening, the father tilted the glass to his mouth and pondered. Then, he said objectively.
“Then, we’ll continue to win him over as planned. If he becomes difficult, then, as always—”
Gene knew what the next words would be. She tightly clenched her fists. This was the other reason why she was allowed inside this family.
That short phrase made Gene close her eyes and hang her head. There was only one response she could give to this command.
She wasn’t a daughter to her father. She was a convenient ‘older sister’ to control her younger sister, a ‘songbird’ to deliver secret messages, and a ‘dagger’ to eliminate those who were inconvenient to her father.
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