Something crashed into the window, surprising the maid who stood beside it.
“Wh-what was that!”
The lady-in-waiting turned her head.
It was a bird.
The bird had crashed into the window and had fallen due to the impact, but it flew up again and sat down on the windowsill.
Then, the bird started pecking the glass, as if asking for attention.
“Wait, isnt that a carrier pigeon”
Carrier pigeons were trained to fly to the west tower, so they never came to the main palace.
But this bird was very unusual.
There wasnt even a note tied to its leg.
‘So this isnt one of ours.
The lady-in-waiting tried to shoo the bird away, but the pigeon didnt budge.
It scratched the glass with its beak, slammed its wings against the windowpane and chirped loudly.
“This crazy bird…!”
“Whats with all the commotion” a voice suddenly spoke, followed by a fit of raspy coughs.
The voice belonged to Sabina, the Grand Duchess of Valentine.
“Yo-Your Grace! I apologize for the racket!” the maid bowed.
“No need to apologize.
What is the bird doing”
Sabinas throat seemed to be clogged, making her sound hoarse.
Her silhouette could be seen through the gaps of the canopy beds drapes.
Her skin tone was ashen, not ghostly like a white person, just subdued and pale.
Her once plump hands were now skin and bones.
Her fingers now appeared longer, thinner, and frail.
“Well, theres something wrong with this carrier pigeon.
He keeps rapping the window.”
Sabina scoffed, “Id like to see this brave bird.”
“Oh, you mustnt! The doctor told Your Grace to rest…”
“I will only rest once I die.”
“Your Grace is saying such things again,” the maid frowned.
The lady-in-waitings eyes glimmered with tears, but she gritted her teeth and endured the pain.
She couldnt just cry in front of the Grand Duchess.
“I was lucky to survive yesterday, but today might be my last.
So I shall do what I want.”
Sabina knew that her time was running out.
Death is a thorny road, but she had already given up, accepted, and was ready to depart.
The head lady-in-waiting, Diana, wouldve been more strict if she was here, but unfortunately, she was away.
She sighed and helped Sabina sit on a chair by the window.
However, the bird immediately flew away.
‘Once I find that pigeon, Ill turn him into food! the lady-in-waiting thought, gnashing her teeth.
Sabina gazed outside the window and spoke, “Those are… cherry blossoms”
Surprisingly, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom.
Its impossible for them to bloom this fast,” the lady-in-waiting muttered.
But when she opened the curtains, her eyes widened and her eyebrows raised.
The giant cherry trees that lined the palace were clothed in pink and white blossoms, the boughs that used to be so bereft suddenly became beautifully adorned, and their scents were diffused along with the spring breeze.
It was akin to a miracle.
* * *
Lloyd headed to the place where she first saw Aria.
Several jaguars followed him from behind.
The jaguars roared in response.
Suddenly, something fell to the top of his head.
Lloyd took it off with his hands and observed the object.
“What on earth….”
He raised his head.
The petals fluttered down like gentle rain.
Amongst the bare trees, only the cherry blossoms showed signs of life.
“Is this one of Kalins pranks”
‘When did he start doing these kinds of things No, he couldnt have learned the magic of blooming flowers in the first place.
The palaces sorcerers were in charge of burning the petals, not making them bloom.
‘Then this must be the work of someone else.
Lloyd immediately thought of the little girl who stood absentmindedly under the rain, holding her umbrella.
The dancing petals resembled her hair flowing in the wind.
‘As expected, its annoying. Lloyd thought as he gazed at the cherry trees.
A while later, his jaguars came back while carrying an item in their mouths.
It was a small, old leather bag and it was soaked in rainwater.
‘Its that kids.
Aria held the bag tightly as if it were her lifeline before.
She must have dropped the bag when he pointed his sword towards her neck.
‘She must be hiding something.
Lloyd instantly opened the bag.
However, its contents were not what he expected.
The bag was filled with cards, ink bottles, and broken quills.
Was she using these to communicate
She wrote everything on her cards and didnt even try to discard them.
Her conversations could be easily leaked.
‘She shouldve burned them on the spot.
However, this was a good advantage for Lloyd.
He could find information about her, and if she were even a bit suspicious, he would kill her.
[The flowers outside are beautiful.]
She unexpectedly talked about flowers.
‘Did she like flowers
[I can see the flowers.
I like them.]
He liked them too.
‘So thats why she went to the garden To see the flowers
Tastes like melon.]
‘Tastes like melon
He skipped to the next page.
[Soft, white clouds floating on top.]
[Melon is delicious.]
She must have liked it.
‘Though its not melon.
[My name is not bitch.]
As he went further back, the cards had traces of time.
All of them were yellow, and the edges were completely torn.
[I was wrong.]
[Its all my fault.]
[Dont hit me.]
[I will try to speak.]
[Im sorry for being a mute bitch.]
The cards were wrinkled.
There were traces of Aria taking them out and reading them over and over again.
The ink was smeared with tears.
[Please love me.]
That card was the last.
Lloyds gut clenched.
He stood still as if he was paralysed.
Suddenly, one of his jaguars bit his leg, making him lose his train of thoughts.
They pointed towards the palace.
That could only mean one thing.
Aria was there.
The boy, who had been silent for a while, let go of his grip on the broken quill and dropped it to the ground.
* * *
Even from under the sheets, Aria was radiating heat like a brick right out of the oven.
The fever was burning her up, both body and spirit.
She could hear the chatter of voices getting louder and louder.
Those were the voices of the nobles who came to see the Siren.
“Sing for me, my angel.”
“Is that it Are you kidding me”
“I spent all of my fortunes to see you.
Dont you dare pretend to be sick! Get up now!”
“If you dont want to die, then sing.
Right this instant!”
Aria couldnt distinguish the voices from imagination and reality.
Her head felt as if someone had shaken it until her brain was thoroughly bruised, when suddenly… a nudge to her ribs jerked her awake.
Arias eyelids blinked open to the ceiling of the room, her breathing rate beginning to steady.
“Young Miss! Are you awake”
Aria glanced upward, her mouth slightly opened.
She blinked and tried to refocus her vision.
On her left was the Head Lady-in-Waiting Diana, and on her right, was the Head Maid Betty.
Both servants stared at her anxiously.
Diana tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and spoke, “Im so glad youre okay.”
She was in the Grand Duchy.
Aria had almost forgotten.
‘Were they the ones who took care of me
Aria was suffering from a fever.
She laid still as her skin reddened from her bloods heat.
However, there was always someone beside her, running to and from her room with cool cloths, and wiping her body with a wet towel.
Aria felt weird because their actions seemed to tell her that she didnt have to take care of herself anymore, even if she was sick.
‘Oh no, Im tearing up.
Diana stroked Arias head.
She didnt falter this time.
She had gotten used to Dianas warm touch.
Her strokes and hugs brought a feeling of peace she had never known before, calming the storms in her heart, as if telling her she was safe within these walls, protected.
The world around her melted away as her touch made the room warmer.
“Oh, my,” Diana beamed.
While patting Arias head frantically, Diana remembered that she was still a patient.
She scratched the back of her head.
“You have to eat this soup before taking the antipyretic,” Diana said as she scooped the soup and blew the heat away.
Aria flushed red in embarrassment, but she still took every spoonful of soup diligently.
As the spoon went to her mouth, she realized something.
Aria scanned her surroundings, searching for her bag.
She couldnt find it.
Worried, she wrote on her hands.
“Fortunately, she has crossed the hurdle.”
Aria breathed a sigh of relief.
It seemed that the Grand Duchess had not passed away yet.
“Oh, and the Prince came to see you.
But milady was sleeping at that time.”
“He wanted to return this to you.”
It was Arias bag.
‘When did I drop it
Aria rummaged inside the bag to write on her card, but she could not find her quill.
Instead, what she found was a luxurious fountain pen.
She rubbed her eyes, wondering if she was actually hallucinating because of the fever.
It was a fountain pen with gold trim in black ripple.
The nib was gold and adorned with diamonds, and it was decorated with Catalonias signature, the worlds most famous craftsman.
Even if it were displayed in a museum, the fountain pen would still be considered priceless.
Aria stared at Diana with a worried look.
Diana shrugged and replied, “He mustve picked it up from the office.”
The Valentines fortunes were so vast that they could never be topped.
‘When the empress got one of Catalonias works, she boasted all night at the banquet.
Suddenly, Aria found a note in her bag.
[Leave when youre all better.]
This was a farewell gift.
If Aria did not disappear after she was healed, he wouldnt hesitate to kill her.
Aria turned to Diana for advice.
[Does Lloyd hate me]
Aria touched her neck, which was wrapped in a bandage.
‘I thought I could live as long as I hid my abilities as a Siren.
“Im afraid I dont know… I am not able to figure out whats in His Highness mind.”
“He ordered us to let you try every kind of dessert,” Diana muttered, briefly showing signs of trouble.
“Even though such a thing isnt possible…”