Despite being attacked, we managed to escape safely thanks to Bernhardt and Lizia, and after heading west from the Rietberg territory, it took us all night to pass through the neighboring Roman territory. Slightly north from there, we entered the Gleissner territory.
From here until the west coast of Bell, we’ll have to pass through three smaller territories. It’ll take barely three days for us to get to Bell if things go well.
I did say if things go well, but on the other hand, I’m nervous for some reason. After all, if things one is unaccustomed to keep occurring, it causes them to be slightly high-strung.
We came across a stable a little bit further.
Deciding that it was a good place to stop, just as Lizia said, she left the back to change places and drove the wagon.
When I thought about it, the former Duke, Bernhardt, carries no social position, and with my rank as Countess, the one with the highest status among us three is Lizia.
Despite the fact that she should have the highest rank, she’s sitting on the driver’s seat very naturally.
Strange. It’s strange no matter how you think about it. You don’t normally hear of a Marquis’ daughter able to handle a wagon. How should I put it? It’s very absurd.
As I thought of that while hidden in the back as always, the entrance swayed open, and Bernhardt came in.
I swallowed down the weird voice I was about to raise.
I mean, there’s no helping it. I’ve never been alone with Bernhardt even when we were in school. Moreover, in a narrow place like this!
If I extend the tips of my toes just a little bit over the distance, I’d be able to touch him.
When I thought that, I could clearly feel my whole body, up to the tips of my fingers, enough to make me feel that I was choking.
I was thankful that it was dark inside, and he won’t find out that my face had turned red. I’d feel extremely uncomfortable if he were to know how embarrassed I was.
That’s why I’ve stopped thinking of the canopy that shields us from the public eyes and the cold wind as simply those things, and more of a wonderful thing. I’ve even forgotten that at the beginning, I hated that it was dirty, and was now thankful for the brown curtain that covers the back.
As if he didn’t know what was in my heart — or no, rather, purposely pretending not to know, he turned his back towards me and promptly slipped under the blanket that Lizia had been using up until earlier.
Treating me as if I wasn’t here, I felt shame suddenly fill me as I noticed how inappropriate my happiness was. On the other hand, the blood that was rising to my face completely disappeared.
Just what was I thinking? Even though nothing will happen. He has no interest in me whatsoever.
When I mocked myself like that, my feelings returned back to normal, and the curse that seemed to mysteriously cause my joints to freeze up was released.
And I do hope that it wasn’t just my joints that were released.
With his face hidden under the blanket up to his nose, Bernhardt’s formerly closed eyes opened slightly and looked at me.
Darn it. I did want to talk to him, but I haven’t thought of what to talk about.
Why is it that even I’m not good at things like this? I’m completely sick of it.
I frantically wracked my brain to look for a topic.
That’s right. Thanking him.
I haven’t properly thanked him yet.
“Thank you for helping me.”
“Don’t mind it.”
Bernhardt’s tone was extremely cold when he used to be the president and I was a member.
Right now, he wasn’t cold, but rather, I was worried that he’d say he has no interest instead of saying he has no ill will. The Bernhardt I knew was that kind of person.
“But there’s no merit to you guys doing this. Lizia-san said the reason for this act of kindness was for good deeds, but you…”
He raised one side of his eyebrows when I unconsciously trailed off. It was a face saying, ‘If you have something to say, say it.’ To be quite honest, he’s a little scary. But in spite of that, in the end, a girl like me thinks he’s lovely. My suppressed feelings began to stir yet again.
“As far as I know, you’re not the type of person who would help others for no reason.”
That might ruin his good mood.
Even when I tried to secretly look at his face, as always, you couldn’t glean anything from it.
“You’re not wrong. So stop being so afraid of me.”
It’s as if he’s seen completely through me.
Come to think of it, it was the same thing when he invited me into the Hidden Student Council aka the Art Appreciation Club.
I was surprised that he had guessed everything correctly, as if he completely knew about my feelings.
Thinking about it, that was probably around the time I started harboring special feelings for him.
“And so, why?”
The voice that I tried to let out with as little emotion as possible sounded a bit subdued.
Is she that important?
When I let my mind wander, those words came to mind.
No. That’s not what I wanted to say.
And yet, for a grown woman to be jealous of one person — such an unsightly thing, I’m the worst.
Even if that was the case, the reason I’ve made it this far safely is due to Lizia’s sympathy.
Moreover, I don’t hate Lizia anymore. Rather, I have a good impression of her. She wasn’t selfish, vain, nor a mean person, like I had hoped for out of jealousy.
Even if I held down that part of me that hated her, it comes out willingly, and makes me do horrible things. Just what have I done?
“You may have a merit that you yourself don’t know yet. That’s what you thought, right?”
I stopped for a moment and thought about the question that he suddenly threw out.
A merit that I myself don’t know either…?
He whispered disinterestedly compared to his question and closed his eyes.
“I’ll be sleeping for a bit. If you can, why don’t you keep Lizia company and talk to her? Since it looks like you’ve got time for it.”
Having said that, it seems that he’s decided to sleep now.
I wonder what he meant.
My merit is being the sole daughter of my father, who’s the Count and head of the family, and my mother, who married from the neighboring country’s Dukedom. Even if there is another reason aside from this…
Even though I would like to ask him what he meant by that, he already said that he’ll be sleeping. It would be impudent of me to disturb his sleep as he’s probably twice as tired.
As I had some free time, I stared at the back of his black head absentmindedly, and it made me remember the time when I unwittingly fell in love with him.
I had finally escaped from the narrow world of the estate, but because I frankly had never experienced talking to others of my age for many years, I couldn’t quite get used to school life, and by the time I noticed it, I was already a third-year.
Of course, I didn’t spend all that time by myself: The children of nobles who sided with the Count. That’s right, just when I looked to my side, there were already people who called themselves my followers. To be honest, I don’t particularly like them that much.
Despite having finally left the estate, I’m still being pursued as the daughter and a direct descendant of Count Hausknecht. Plus with the followers, even the students that had no relation to the Count were keeping their distance from me.
Unlike that prison-like estate, I was lonelier than ever despite being surrounded by many people at school.
Is that it?
Is he trying to test my own strength?
Faint hope grew within me at Bernhardt’s words and the new world that he invited me to.
I thought I would come into contact with other Hidden Student Council members similar to me.
Wonderful enough that if asked, it was close enough to call them a friend. But without as much intervention as necessary, there were times I would be called embarrassing things like ‘senpai’, be depended on, and finish a job together with them. I loved that room.
My heart squeezed at the thought of having merit aside from my status, and blood.
That’s why I’m thankful for Bernhardt inviting me into the Hidden Student Council.
Even though he was younger than me, I was genuinely attracted to his quick wit, and I respected him as well for it.
And when I noticed it, it turned into love.
The Hidden Student Council changed me, whether that was a good thing or not.
The me until then had given up on thinking for myself. No one requested that of me, and rather, I hated it.
But once I thought about it, I couldn’t help but realize that what I had thought was being an honest and good kid was instead a doll that acted for the sake of others.
That’s why I ran away.
I thought to run away and that I had to see him.
I wanted to go look for him who found me.
By chance, if–
I asked myself what if I was just a normal girl from somewhere far away.
If I had some other merit just as myself, without my status and blood, would he come to love me?
I came to my senses at the shrill neigh of the horse.
Just then, the surroundings made a noise, as if it suddenly came to life.
Bernhardt’s regular breathing continued on. I let go of my knees, and when I sat down comfortably, the axle of the wagon made a slightly creaking noise.
I began to ask Lizia about the junction just up ahead of the stable.
“What happens if you make a mistake and took a right?”
“Probably a cliff. Since we’re by a steep cliff*.”
This is worrying.
I was fed up with how much free time I had left as well as my butt being in pain, and when I asked Lizia if I could come out and sit with her, she immediately replied, ‘Go ahead.’ Though it might be because I’m slightly worried about the cliff.
Because my blonde hair would stand out, I reluctantly agreed to covering my head before I went out.
When I struggled to move towards the driver’s seat as the wagon moved, I was welcomed with cold wind blowing in my face, and I ducked my head into my neck like a turtle. The sunlight was warm, but the wind was strong — even the tip of Lizia’s nose was completely red. It just drove home the blessing of the canopy more and more.
Just like me, Lizia’s head was covered, and she was humming a song I’ve never heard of as she maneuvered the horse. Across from us were sparse clouds painted on the light blue sky that continued on and the sprawling countryside that spread out as far as the eye could see. Now and then, you could see small, toy-like shapes of people tending to vegetables. Green ivy-like things sturdily spread out over the dark color of the ground in stripes. I wonder what they’re growing.
Furthermore, it looked like it stretched until the distant mountains — I unconsciously sighed at how strange and majestic it looked.
It suddenly made me remember of my daydreams of journeying to faraway places when I was a child. Knowing that it wouldn’t happen, I gave up on daydreaming, but…
It seems it’s still deeply rooted in me.
Lizia waited a bit for me to enjoy the scenery and asked a question.
“What do you like about Bern?”
I hesitated on how to answer when she asked me in a somewhat excited voice. In short, should I answer appropriately, or say what I really feel? Won’t either of them not hurt her good mood?
For a moment, various thoughts went through my head, but in the end, on one hand, my relationship with her was good enough. Besides, she was strangely sharp, and even if I said something insincere, I have a feeling she’d be able to see through it.
Ending my worries, I gave her the simplest and most basic answer.
“The fact that he doesn’t think anything of me.”
“Wow. A do-M*.”
“What does that mean?”
I don’t get what she meant by that. But even if I don’t, I at least knew it didn’t mean anything good.
Lizia distracted me by laughing awkwardly, ‘Ahahaha.’ She sometimes uses words I’m not familiar with, but are they from a dialect, or what? Even though the Rietberg territory isn’t that far off from the Royal Capital.
Urging me to continue, I cautiously answered. To avoid saying something bad, and have her ending up disliking me.
“That, and despite usually being absentminded, as a president, he’s, uhm…”
“Yes… Wait, no, I mean he’s reliable!”
I had unconsciously agreed with her and snapped back at her.
“He’s cool, huh?”
As if she didn’t sense the great effort I put in to making my tactful words vague, Lizia nodded happily.
Looks like it’s useless of me to worry about her. She’s the type of person whose way of thinking I don’t quite understand.
I raised a white flag in my head, giving up. I mean, there’s no loss for me to raise a white flag because we’re not really fighting.
“Yes, that’s true. He’s wonderful.”
When I looked at her seriously, Lizia had on a proud expression as if I was praising her myself. Why are you so pleased about? Though I was making fun of her, I felt a gloomy look pass through her narrowed eyes for a moment, and quickly held my tongue.
Come to think of it, her complexion looks bad when I looked at her face under the sun. It seems that when they changed shifts, Bernhardt was worried as well.
It may be best of me to offer words of worry, but she may not honestly admit to it, and uneasily settled to look at the back of the horse. In the end, the only thing I could do for her is to talk about happy things.
“Will you be having the wedding next year?”
I asked that in as bright of a voice as I could possibly do, but it seems that it didn’t do the trick and came out as slightly sarcastic instead. In fact, it’s a topic that rubs salt into my wounds, so there’s no helping that it sounds sarcastic. Plus, I feel that way of speaking was very like me.
Despite all of that, Lizia looked at the sky to her upper left and said a few words after.
‘Who knows?’ Don’t act as if it’s other people’s business.
“You seem so easygoing about it.”
“Is that so? That’s cause we haven’t properly talked about it.”
“You don’t have to though? Aren’t you his fiancée?”
“I do wonder.”
Once again, she gave another vague answer, ‘I do wonder,’ like she didn’t quite understand my question, and stared into the distance absentmindedly.
Her profile looked extremely expressionless, causing me to slightly feel scared, and I hastily gave up on conversing with her. I had done the same thing a while ago as well. This may be the first time I’ve worried about someone and concentrated on each and every one of their actions, not knowing if they were optimistic or just being prudent. Rather, when Lizia is dispirited, I feel dispirited as well.
“What do you like about Bernhardt-sama?”
She looked troubled for a while, and then said,
“…I wonder what?”
“I mean, it’s surprisingly difficult to say what exactly…”
A loud noise came from the wagon as if the luggage had fallen over, and I quickly turned around.
The wagon fell silent, like nothing happened, and the entrance canopy fluttered in the breeze. I looked at Lizia who had turned around as well.
As we blinked at each other twice, three times at the same time for no particular reason, she suddenly burst into laughter.
I heard someone deeply sigh from behind the wagon’s canopy, and I couldn’t help but let out the laughter I was trying to hold back.
*steep cliffs – it’s actually called a palisade similar to this.
*do-M – for those of you who play otome games (cause that’s definitely where I heard about it), a do-M or ドm is like an extreme masochist. Or very masochistic. The opposite would be a do-S or ドｓ. It’s mainly about their personality, and not about BDSM.