On this day when the snow melted and the warm sunlight signaled the end of winter, Marquess Barbasse’s second daughter, Violetta, was in a good mood. During the two months since meeting Herscherik, she couldn’t meet with him every week, but when she could, those days of tea parties, dance practices, and listening sessions of her beloved sister’s songs were joyful. Moreover, Herscherik even ate her slightly burnt, failed snacks without showing any displeasure.
“They’re delicious. Thank you, Miss Violetta,” he told her.
Whenever those gentle, jade eyes looked at her, she felt her heart rate increase. Every time they met, she discovered a new side of him to love: a kind side, a hard-working side, a knowledgeable side, a friendly side, a mature side, and a surprisingly stubborn side. There was loneliness when they bid farewell, and anticipation for the next time they could meet. Violetta didn’t understand what she was feeling, but she sensed that whenever she thought about him, she felt warm inside. That was why on the days she met Herscherik, she was in a good mood and full of smiles the whole time.
Violette fluttered her outfit and curtsied to Herscherik, who appeared from the door. It took her an hour in the morning to decide on this, and of course, she had asked her older sister to help her with her makeup and hairstyle for this occasion. This older sister also curtsied next to her. Her sister’s dignified gestures were fluid and clean. It made Violetta proud of her sister.
“Hello, Miss Violetta. Miss Gene too. I apologize for my late arrival,” Herscherik smiled at the two showing their respect and ended with an apology.
“Your butler had informed us that your studies had run late. You need not worry about us.”
“No, I made a promise to you two. Studying is neither a valid excuse nor reason for my actions,” Herscherik shook his head at Gene’s statement.
(To be able to honestly apologize for their own mistakes… I found another wonderful side to Lord Herscherik!)
Violetta became merrier upon seeing a new side of the prince. She felt like she was another step closer to knowing him.
“Miss Violetta, your clothes are cute today as well.”
“Thank you very much…”
Herscherik’s compliment made Violetta blush as she thanked him. People say that men don’t notice the changes in women very well, but they should mention and compliment the women’s clothes, hairstyles, lip color, and accessories. So when Herscherik noticed this slight change, Violetta felt very happy that the prince was conscious of her. In actuality, it was because Herscherik was a female in his previous life. He noticed these subtle changes and simply gave his honest opinions, but ignorance is bliss.
In an attempt to hide her red cheeks, Violetta took a bag out of the basket she was carrying and presented it to Herscherik.
“Lord Herscherik, I tried baking you some cookies today.”
“Thanks, Miss Violetta. Can I try one now? To be honest, I forgot to eat lunch.”
She had baked these cookies under her older sister’s supervision. They were slightly burnt, but she picked out the prettiest cookies from the batch that successfully baked. Herscherik accepted the bag from Violetta, undid the ribbon, took out a cookie, and put it into his mouth. It made a rather crunchy sound for a cookie, but he looked like he enjoyed it.
“Chocolate-nut cookies… They’re my favorite.”
“I’m glad!” Violetta said, but she made these cookies specifically because she knew that Herscherik loved chocolate-nut cookies, but she refused to say.
“Miss Violetta, it looks like your skills have improved again.”
Violetta was aware that Herscherik’s compliment made her cheeks flush again. However, there was still one thing about the prince that upset her. She used to address him as ‘His Highness’ in the beginning, but after feeling that they became closer, he asked her to switch to using simply ‘Lord’.
“You can even forgo the honorifics. I don’t mind.”
Herscherik had told her, but she declined as that would be too much. Yet, on the other hand, the prince continued to address her with ‘Miss’. Even though he was someone who didn’t care what honorifics people used for him, he continued to use honorifics for everyone except for his aides. Violetta felt like he was building a wall between them for some reason. That was why she wanted him to also forgo honorifics.
“Lord Herscherik, if possible, could you…”
Herscherik’s cheeks were stuffed with cookies when he tilted his head when Violetta spoke. That gesture was cute even for a boy, and Violetta swallowed back her words.
While Violetta’s suspicious behavior was still on his mind, Herscherik finished about half of the cookies before retying the ribbon on the bag.
“I’ll eat the rest when we come back.”
“Are we heading out today?” Gene asked.
“Yes,” Herscherik nodded. “I was thinking about heading to the castle town today. I’ll have Oranju escort us, so we’ll be safe. Also, I’ll have another person accompany us later. I’ll introduce him then.”
Then Herscherik looked at the two.
“Miss Violetta, Miss Jean, I’m sorry to ask this of you, but can you two change clothes since your outfits will stand out in the castle town?”
The prince said apologetically, so the two couldn’t refuse.
After about twenty minutes, the sisters reconvened with Herscherik in the room he was waiting for them.
“Does Your Highness usually wear such clothes when you go to the castle town?”
Violetta spun around in the one-piece dress that had been prepared for her. It was blander than the outfit she had on before, but it was also easier to move in. Additionally, her pigtails were tied into a single bun on top of her head, making it even easier to move. Gene wore an outfit that was commonly seen in town for those around her age. Her straight, copper-colored hair was tied into a loose braid, making her look like a refined, older sister.
“Yes. Since everyone will be nervous if I went to town in those clothes,” Herscherik explained. He had also changed from his princely outfit to one of an aristocrat’s son.
“Lord Herscherik, are you ready?” someone said.
The one who appeared was the prince’s personal knight, Oranju. He wasn’t wearing his usual outfit that resembled the Imperial Knights’ uniform but rather his normal, plain clothes. He used polite speech this time because a third party was present, but Herscherik felt this discrepancy from his knight’s usual demeanor. It felt strange, but he didn’t voice it.
“Yeah, I’m all set. How about you?”
“Yes, I finished the preparations.”
Oran prompted someone to enter the room, and this person caused the sisters to gasp. It was as if a goddess, who had long, straight, pure-white hair, narrow amber eyes, and a beauty that would drive an expert artisan crazy trying to replicate, had descended. This goddess of beauty furrowed in displeasure, picked up the male clothes, and took them.
“This is my magic teacher. I call him ‘Shiro’.”
The man merely glanced at the sisters after being introduced. He didn’t exchange any particular greeting. This was an arrogant attitude to give to aristocrats, much less to ladies, on their first encounter, but Herscherik still ended up thinking that Shiro looked picturesque.
Violetta thought, “His Highness is fantastic and Prince Marcus is a very beautiful person, but… but this person was an ethereal beauty.” If someone told her that the person who appeared before her was a goddess, she would believe without a single doubt. But there was another thing Violetta was concerned about.
“…Is it true? Does Lord Herscherik really prefer mature women?” Violetta mumbled to herself.
“Huh?” Herscherik tilted his head again at her words. Then, when he noticed that the two ladies had their eyes fixed on Shiro, he finally realized. “Setting aside what my preferences are, Shiro is a man.”
“Eeh?!” Violetta screamed in surprise.
This caused Shiro to be upset and snort, “Are you about done yet?”
“Yes. Let’s go.”
Oran led the way, Herscherik and Violetta walked side by side, and Gene and Shiro were at the tail.
“…To think we would meet each other in such a place.” Shiro lowered his voice enough so that the three in front couldn’t hear. He didn’t face her as he spoke. His voice was even lower than when he talked to Herscherik. He was addressing Gene, who only answered with silence. He asked again, “What are you planning?”
“…I am simply a chaperone for my younger sister Violetta.” Gene had sensed that she was found out, and she bit her lip. She spat out those words. The corner of Shiro’s mouth raised in response, and he said no more.
(That’s right. I’m only playing the role of an older sister.)
Sometimes, she’ll become a songbird to deliver secret letters to her father’s friends. Other times, she’ll become a dagger to erase those who inconvenienced her father. And finally, she’ll be the good older sister to Violetta. She had to play all those roles or else she would either be dead by now or living the worst possible life.
Gene’s eyes suddenly caught sight of the prince’s back. The prince forced a smile to Violetta, who seemed to be badgering him about something. But he definitely wasn’t upset. If Gene had to say, his expression resembled an adult pushed to listen to a selfish child’s whims. Even though the prince was only seven years old, his presence felt somewhat larger than that.
“Miss Gene, will you play us that song for us again?”
Herscherik would request the song after his dance practices with Violetta. The song was the one she sang when she first met him—the one without lyrics. When she asked why he was fixated on it, he responded, “It feels nostalgic for some reason.” And when begged with upturned eyes from down below, she ended up playing the incomplete song.
While the prince listened to the song, he looked more mature than normal. His face resembled a traveler reminiscing about their faraway hometown. When the song ended, he would look lonely and thank Gene with his head cast down.
That expression was heartbreaking. When she asked, “Should I play one more time?” to him, his lonely face completely changed into a happy one, and he nodded. She realized that when she saw his face, she naturally smiled.
(I wonder which one I was at that time…)
Gene asked herself, but this question sunk to the depths of her consciousness without being answered.
The two became silent, but they didn’t notice that someone had listened to their conversation before.
Translator’s Note: In case someone doesn’t know, the “raison d’être” in the title is from the French saying which means “reason for being”.
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