While I nibbled on my food, surrounded by an atmosphere where I felt alienated, my mother savored the dishes to the fullest.
She steadily ate the prepared food elegantly, and only left her seat after she finished the dessert.
Her steps through the hallway were light as always.
I remembered clearly walking on tiptoe from when I was little since I desperately wanted to match her steps.
Maybe it was because of that that Rany said I looked like an aristocrat upon our first meeting.
I was still a copycat, though.
Mother halted her steps for a while and stared at the evening garden through the transparent window.
The sky where the sun began to set was covered in scarlet glow.
I spoke out from behind her out of nowhere.
“What’s the reason for you to ask me to stay here”
“Isn’t there a reason for you to ask me that”
“It’s nothing big.”
She acted airily and didn’t take her gaze off beyond the window as she continued her word.
“Since the son of Beryl has disappeared, wouldn’t he be targeting you if he was aware and in a good condition”
“You shattered his plans.”
She made a good point there, but the unexpected reason made me blink.
Thinking that it was said from her worry for me led to my feelings getting even weirder.
She began humming lightly.
The soft melody left her mouth and reached my ears.
“On top of that, you’ll become more busy.”
“Just look at how big this problem turned out to be.
Do you think the Temple or even the imperial family would let you stay still”
I was reflected on her beautiful pupils.
Her face was so mesmerizing that I questioned how I could even be her daughter.
“The step daughter of the Duke as well as my only daughter.
Since you’ve made such a contribution, you’re suitable for praise, and aren’t you a perfect person to be used for them to build up their names Because you look like you have no backer.”
“Just wait and see.
Soon an invitation will come to you.”
She smiled brightly as she reached out to touch my cheeks.
The fancily made artificial nails felt rough on my cheeks.
Still, her touch was careful and soft.
“If you stay here .
She dragged on her words before ending it with a glance at me.
“It would be more difficult for your foxy friend to enter your room through a window and rub himself on you.”
“You know about that”
Zen’s visits to the mansion were mostly when Mom was absent.
He didn’t like things that were fancy and garnered attention.
Not only that, he also couldn’t deal with my mom, whose personality changed depending on her moods.
Something like how she always liked to touch as she pleased.
When Mom stayed at home, he stopped visiting me.
How did she know when even workers in there didn’t know
“What do I not know about my daughter”
I stared intently at my mom who spoke more today as though she were in a good mood.
She shrugged her shoulders.
“Tell him to be careful so he won’t get his head lost to the strict guards.
Or maybe you can meet him by formally inviting him here.”
“Wait, I never said that I would stay in this mansion, though.”
She exposed a meaningful smile at my mutters.
It was as if she was finding it cute to see a little kid who knew nothing.
“I wonder about that.”
As if she wasn’t anticipating any reply, she slowly walked away after leaving that question.
I was left there while I couldn’t hide my anxious heart.
And as expected, Mom was right.
Because not long after, an invitation from the palace under the pretext to congratulate my contribution arrived in front of me.
* * *
I, who was nothing more than a normal student until not long ago, couldn’t decline the invitation from the emperor.
While I stared down on the invitation with a complicated feeling, Rany linked her arm with me and asked.
“What are you going to wear to the palace”
“How are you planning to go there”
“By a carriage.”
Who will escort you there”
“I’ll go alone.”
Rany’s stare bore a hole in me.
I only wanted to meet the emperor quickly and go back, but it seemed as though I shouldn’t do that.
She gave me a rare serious look.
“You will get arrested for lese majeste if you do that.”
“Would it be that bad”
“If you were a normal person, do you know how many procedures you would have to go through in order to meet the Young Duke of Miller Duchy with no status”
I shook my head.
The first time I visited this place, the grand door was already wide open.
Even if I visited every corner in this mansion with a guide, there was nothing like approval procedure.
Everyone just lets me walk in.
Besides, Orion had never met me in accordance with procedure.
He visited me, met me by chance, and he picked me up.
Come to think of it, the call from the academy was the first time we met with me reaching out to him first.
Rany sighed as though she found me frustrating.
“First, you would have to submit an application to visit through the Duchy’s Administration Office.
The reason for the visit and your identity, as well as the day you want to do the visit.”
“Even so, there’s no certainty that you could meet the Young Duke.
Instead, the executive officer or maybe the clerk who works in the Duchy would come to note your business and deliver it to the Young Duke.”
“He is a person that is very very hard to meet with.”
I still found it a bit difficult to believe even after hearing Rany’s explanation.