Having nothing to do is practically agony.
I can sort of get a feel for things when it comes around mealtime, but just to the point of “it’s relatively morning,” or “it’s relatively noon,” and I lose complete track of the periods in-between.
(Smells so good… like they’re cooking garlic.)
I was either close to the kitchen, or the wind was teasing my appetite by mixing with the smells.
In this country, dinner seems to usually fall around 7 o’clock.
Since there was still some time before then, I decided to think about my standard operating procedures for the future.
To begin with, my objective in coming here was to enshrine my mother, and that’s over with.
Enshrinement, in this case, is something like a death anniversary; the things we did were just formalities. Mother’s actual body is still interred in the royal family’s mausoleum in the capital.
If it weren’t for this falling incident, I would’ve long since been on my way back to the capital.
(But even if I decided to go back to the capital, it’s not like the perpetrator has been caught yet… and if I reeeeally think about it, it’s not like returning to the capital guarantees my safety or anything…)
“Princess… no, Your Highness.”
While getting lost in those thoughts, Lilia called me “Your Highness” for once.
I’ve started understanding over the past several days that when Lilia calls me Your Highness, it usually indicates an official address of some sort.
I faced her with a face that asked, What is it?
“We have received a request for an audience for the Duchess and her children from Duke Elsvelt.”
For a second, I couldn’t help but doubly cock my head to the side.
“It appears his Excellency the Duke is thinking to introduce your Highness to your step-mother, his wife, and to your venerable elder brothers.”
No, really, I got that much, but… It made me wonder.
Because as I’ve said many a time, this situation looked simple but was an honest-to-God hot mess.
Let’s review, shall we?
I am a legitimate duke’s daughter, born from an official marriage between a duke and a princess, and the current Crown Princess.
The reason I go out of my way to say “official marriage” is because that’s pretty damn important in the Kingdom of Dardinia.
If I sort out my current state of affairs surrounding my social standing and situation based on this information, how should I say it… it’s so very midday soap-opera.
Aside from Alterie, Duke Elsvelt has five children.
All five are sons, and their birth mother is the Duchess, Madam Ruschella, who was welcomed as the duke’s second wife.
The thing to pay attention to here is that she doesn’t have the “Dis” title as a consort, but rather “Fis,” as a wife.
While “madam” in this sense doesn’t refer to her as his lover — but does indicate her as a proper wife — since she isn’t a “consort” she lacks a lot of the rights afforded to a proper consort. Ruschella doesn’t have the status required to become a proper consort.
All aside, this isn’t just about status. Reality is, women even lower in status than Ruschella had gained the consort’s “Dis” title in the past.
But in all likelihood, Ruschella will never receive the consort’s title. The royal family will never acknowledge her as a consort.
And for that, naturally, there is a reason.
Starting with the eldest, Ruschella’s sons are called Alan, Dior, Rael, Iris and Elles…. Alan, the eldest, is 24 years old, and the youngest, the twins Iris and Elles, are 17. Naturally, Duke Elsvelt is their father.
There are plenty of people who look at our ages and think it’s weird. After all, the woman who became his second wife has children that are way older than me, who was born from the first wife.
But this is really quite simple. Baldly put, she’s been my father’s lover since before he was married, and after my mother bit it, they could finally make themselves public and tie the knot.
My father, Duke Elsvelt, was engaged to my mother, Princess Efinia, from the moment she was born.
This was something the ducal house desperately wanted; furthermore, in spite of the age difference aside, the royal did not reject it for political reasons.
For generations, the four ducal houses have intermarried with one another, but even more importantly the spouse of the Duke of Elsvelt almost always married in from the royal family to the point where it was practically an unwritten law.
That is how they became known as the spares for the royal family, and why, in the event that a queen should be crowned, the leading candidate for Prince Consort will certainly be a man of the Elsvelt family.
The things I want you to pay close attention to here are that, at the time of the princess’s birth, the current Duke Elsvelt was already 15 years old, and rather than the royal family, it was the Duke’s family that wished for the engagement so strongly.
This age gap was the root of all the strife that followed.
My father, Leonhart, fell in love with Count Phinus’ only daughter, Ruschella, when he was twenty years of age.
At this point in time, my mother, Princess Efinia, was just five years old. Even if you say she was his fiancee, since there wasn’t much he could do about it, Leonhart and Ruschella’s relationship, while not exactly welcomed, was rather magnanimously ignored.
Elsvelt was one of the most prominent families within the country, and to Count Phinus who presided over but a single province, the duchy’s successor’s favor toward his child was more than he could have ever hoped for.
There isn’t anything strange about the head of the Four Archdukes, second only to the royal family, having a lover or two. Just the opposite, it would be truly rare if they didn’t.
Eventually, the two of them had a child.
That is their eldest son, Alan. Two years after Alan, Dior was born, and another two years later came Rael… and after three more years, the twins Iris and Elles were born… but the two had never wed.
There was no way they could. Because he was affianced to the princess.
Though even saying such, Leonhart and Ruschella were already married by any other sense of the word. Whether it was themselves or others, all perceived them as such. There was no way for anyone to thing Ruschella a mere lover at that point.
If there had been several other lovers, it would never have become an issue. Putting aside whether or not he made an appropriate marriage partner for a princess, no matter how many bed partners or how many children were had, no one anywhere in any country would bat an eye at it, and if it had been the case, the situation wouldn’t have gotten so twisted.
But the Duke had no other bed partners. Not to say none at all — apparently, he did have his way with a few other women — but that was the end of it.
(…… What impresses me the most is the information network of these maids, to even know that there were other women he put his hands on. You’re amazing, ladies. What the hell kind of information brokers are you.)
I think at this point the Duke really should’ve just refused the marriage to the princess.
But he didn’t refuse… whether he was playing politics or some other political maneuvering, I’m sure there was a lot going on; but personally, I believe it was the worst decision he ever made.
As for the results, well…
(And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how my mother’s tragedy occurred and created this blasted situation before you.)
That is how a young girl of only 15 married a man who already had five children, a wife-apparent, and fifteen years of life on her… as far as the princess is concerned, it was nothing short of a tragedy.
At this point, the only thing the princess had on Ruschella was her social status.
With circumstances like these, youth was no weapon at all. The bright and adorable youngest princess was popular with the people. But to full-grown men, sure enough, all they saw was a child.
A woman’s charms, composure, and maturity… in that sense, a girl of only 15 years would like any ability to charm a man.
Moreover, Ruschella had borne five children… surely, she had confidence that she was well-loved.
… If she’d had at least another five years, Efinia might have turned the situation on its head.
From what I’ve seen of her portrait, the princess was possessed of a most wondrous beauty. Even looking at my own face, so much like hers, I can’t help but think so.
But the princess didn’t have that time.
I was born… The night she passed, the duke was at a villa, at a birthday celebration for his and Ruschella’s youngest children.
And instead of calling off the party when he received notice that his young wife’s water had broken with her first pregnancy, he crushed the notice in his hand; afterward, no matter how many messengers came from the main residence, they were all ignored and the party continued.
He prioritized the birthday celebration of his lover’s children, and so did not come in time for my birth.
Normally the father would name the child, but my name was chosen by my mother, the princess.
I thought it was such a beautiful name. I really, truly love the name Alterie Lutiana, birthed from the first scriptures of the Bible.
Then, they tell me Princess Efinia made a request to the Cardinal of the Church that was present for the sake of my baptism — currently, he is the most powerful Cardinal in the Church, His Grace, Julius.
“I beg you. Please, let my child and I return to the capital. I don’t want to be here anymore.”
Those words became her “Last Wish.”
An hour later, she took her last breath.
That “Last Wish” was a very special thing.
According to the Church’s teachings, the “Last Wish” must, by all means, be fulfilled.
If the Church has acknowledged something as one’s “Last Wish,” the Church will use it’s every right and power to ensure that wish is granted. Regardless of the obstacles between them and accomplishment.
But this is exactly why there are strict rules to adhere to in order for something to be officially recognized as a “Last Wish.” Otherwise, people who were beside the deceased on their deathbeds could ask for anything they wanted, saying it was their neighbor or friend or family’s Last Wish.
Precisely because it was the night I was born… because at that time, in blessed irony, all the necessary conditions were met, her Last Wish was established.
By-the-by, those conditions are these four:
One: The attendance of a highly ranked clergyman of the Church ––> ie. Cardinal Julius
Two: Attendance of at least two persons holding a rank of Knight or higher and possessed of at least two names ––> Efinia’s knights, certainly possessing more than two names
Three: Attendance of at least one blood relative and one relative by marriage of the deceased ––> Blood Relatives: myself, her daughter, and her brother from a different mother, Archduke Gideon / Relatives by Marriage: her mother-in-law, the previous Duchess Elsvelt, and her younger brother-in-law, Count Saudia and his wife.
Four: In the event that the deceased is a noble, the attendance of a noble neither related by blood nor by marriage ––> Count Werni and Baron Vaan, messengers from the royal family who stayed out of concern for the princess.
And thus the princess’ Last Wish was granted.
Everything was finalized before the duke came running the next day.
Princess Efinia was to be interred in the royal family’s mausoleum, and I was to be raised in the duke’s house in the capital.
The fact that the princess who had married out of the royal family was being buried in the royal family’s mausoleum was absolutely unprecedented. Even if it was her Last Wish, I think you can understand why this unprecedented request was granted on the spot without so much as a complaint.
Those brief two years of marriage had brought the princess nothing but agony.
“What shall we do, your Highness? It’s an informal request, but…”
Lilia asked me again since I’d gotten completely distracted.
(I want to personally meet my third elder brother and thank him. But I get the feeling that that should be handled separately from this.)
I tilted my head just slightly before shaking it.
It’s not like I’m all that fastidious… and it’s not like I have Alterie’s memories, but still, I can’t find it in me to forgive either the Duke or the Duchess.
(I feel sorry for mother…)
I felt a prickle deep in my nose.
(I… am Alterie.)
It’s a little late, I guess. … Even until then, I’d been thinking of myself as Alterie. Still, I didn’t really connect with that thought… I was just telling myself over and over that it was true.
But at that point, Alterie and I finally connected, or rather, I think I finally became Alterie.
Slowly and steadily, something like grief filled my chest.
Something that made me want to cry, made me want to scream.
That was something that Izumi Maya, who knew nothing of this world, would never feel.
No matter how tragic I thought it, so long as it was about someone else it was the same as reading a book or watching a drama, where the emotions were just passing through. Yet deep in my chest, something was piling up until it was impossible to ignore.
But even if I can’t ever ask them about it, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget. That’s why…
(I won’t meet them.)
When I quietly shook my head again, somehow Lilia looked quite relieved when she bowed her head.