Murder by Poison
That day, I spent more than half my time in bed.
I’m the type to wake up pretty early to begin with, and I’ve never been one for lazing around in bed, even on my days off.
This morning as well, I was just feeling a bit tired so I thought I’d take a nap. Well, that sort of stupidity happened, so if nothing else I was emotionally fatigued.
When I woke up, the light was… a color neither orange nor yellow, but wrapped in the warm shades of afternoon. It was past 3 o’ clock, to the point where you might as well call it evening.
Here, no matter how long I nap nobody will wake me up. Aah, it’s heaven! Or so I thought at first, but once I realized that I’d always have that sort of free pass, I somehow ended up not being able to be lazy anyway.
No one was upset or blamed me for my unexpected oversleeping, and those helping me change moved at a more sluggish pace than usual.
I asked about Lilia’s absense with my gaze.
The three of them looked so lost, but as I waited for my answer in silence, I watched them try and pass the responsibility off to each other until Julia finally opened her mouth.
“She is investigating the Princess’ attempted poisoning.”
Once I heard the Manila Clam Bloodshed Incident had instead been spread as “The Case of the Crown Princess’ Attempted Murder by Poison,” I found it so ridiculous I nearly burst out laughing.
But, I found myself confused.
I mean, if it’s an attempted poisoning, the person in charge of the cooking would be suspected, I thought.
And I knew best of all that this was no attempted poisoning.
(Making it into such a big deal, calling it an attempted poisoning…)
I wanted to tell them, but I tilted my head to question Julia, who still seemed strange.
There are different classifications for maid-servants, and in the past, I heard if one was not a proper lady-in-waiting they were not allowed to speak directly to an aristocrat. Such traces still exited, and the apprentices still learning the etiquette and I didn’t talk much.
Since among my maid-servants only Lilia ws a proper lady-in-waiting, Lilia was the one always speaking to me.
Though it’s forbidden for subordinates and inferiors to speak out as far as manners are concerned, if you kept to that all throughout your typical daily activities nothing would ever get done, so there’s a sort of unspoken agreement in effect.
Julia, who always helped me get dressed up, hung her head and seemed to be holding back tears. The corners of her eyes were just slightly red, and it seemed as if she’d been wiping away the traces of having already cried.
“My deepest apologies. … Since it’s already long past noon, let’s just do your hair up simply.”
I didn’t have the slightest clue. … That the real incident had happened after I fell asleep.
“I’m afraid I must inform you of something rather unfortunate.”
Dressed at last, I took a seat in my usual chair.
Lilia finally appeared with a single bow, looking strangely restless as she opened her mouth.
I tilted my head as I listened to the nervous tone of Lilia’s words. It was possible that I just wasn’t fully awake yet.
But the next words out of Lilia’s mouth woke me up as surely as if someone had dumped a glass of ice water over my head.
“Your Highness, Ellelucia has passed away.”
Faced with my gaze that so clearly wanted her to denounce that statement as lies, Lilia shook her head listlessly.
“This morning’s breakfast was the cause.”
My meals were served to me once my maid-servants had taste-tested them for poison.
Even if this was my parents’ home… no, quite possibly because it was my parents’ home… this was the very embodiment of the royal family’s wariness against trusting others.
Apparently, in order to tell which dish was served with poison, the maids would each eat different items. The problem dishes were the clam soup and the stir-fried greens and mushrooms. They told me that about an hour after consuming these two dishes, Ellelucia was struck with stomach pains.
“It was already too late when the physician was called, and two hours after she complained of abdominal pain this afternoon, her breathing stopped.”
Lilia’s words seemed to echo afar off.
Even though I was supposedly sitting in my chair, somehow I couldn’t understand what I was doing.
It even felt as though all five of my senses had been sealed off.
“We haven’t yet ascertained which specific poison was used, but the physician says it was likely one with a delay before effect.”
(It doesn’t take a doctor to figure that out. Even I knew that.)
I was so damn close to cursing at them, calling them useless, but I held it in. It wasn’t Lilia’s fault.
I took several deep breaths, trying to calm myself down.
I had to calm down and get myself together.
Anger would only cloud my judgement.
I told myself that over and over… but my fisted hands still shook.
(… I know.)
My rage wasn’t justified.
Even I could tell that much.
Certainly, I held hatred for the criminal who took Ellelucia’s life. But that wasn’t all.
I… couldn’t forgive myself, for sleeping while Ellelucia was suffering.
It wasn’t like I would’ve been able to do anything for her, even if I was awake. Even so… I was pissed at myself for sleeping without a care.
Anger and grief swirled in my chest… together with a resentment I couldn’t do anything about. I asked myself over and over again, how something like this could have happened.
In my heart, seething rage and tear-inducing grief mixed together in a sloppy, hot mess.
… But it was beyond helping at that point.
(If it weren’t for that clam incident, I probably would’ve eaten it, too.)
I knew all too well that it wasn’t the clam soup. Because look at me, I was alive and kicking.
Though I was forced to empty my stomach, if there were poison in that soup, even if it wasn’t enough to kill me there still would have been noticeable after-effects. Based on that, the poison was in the greens and mushroom stir-fry.
If it hadn’t been for that uproar, I think I probably would have eaten it.
Because I basically make it a practice to try a little bit of everything.
… Somewhere deep inside, part of me was relieved by this.
This, meaning I was so glad I didn’t eat it.
I could see that part of myself, and wanted to cry at such egotism.
Though Ellelucia had died, part of me was overjoyed to be saved.
It should be obvious that one would be relieved a one’s own safety. But I found that part of me shameful, and more than that, pathetic.
(I’m so sorry…)
There was no reason for Ellelucia to have died like this. There shouldn’t have been a single reason for her to be killed.
(I’m so sorry, Ellelucia.)
I felt that being my maid was what caused her to die.
My eyes widened… and tears slipped out.
Lilia, and eventually the other maid-servants, all stared at me in shock.
Likely because Alterie had probably never cried in front of others before.
But I just couldn’t stop the tears.
I remembered Ellelucia, who I knew for just four days.
The smiling face she showed me, her surprised face, her somewhat troubled face… all her faces. Even though it was just four days, I really did remember.
Even so, she was no longer here.
“Ellelucia was a fortunate one. After all, she was able to protect you, Princess…”
Her fellow maid-servants didn’t cry.
But I felt they must have already cried quite a lot, since all their eyes were red.
I wiped at the corners of my eyes.
(I shouldn’t cry…)
The Crown Princess shouldn’t be crying over the death of a single maid… so my conscience told me. I got it.
I understood. I understood, but the tears still wouldn’t stop.
That’s why I turned around. So no one could see that crying face of mine.
One of the knights on the veranda looked at me, but hastily turned away.
I bit my lips… and looked down.
It wasn’t because I was crying.
I knit my hands over my chest… and bowed my head.
I was just praying, that was all. So please, overlook the drops that still fell to the floor.
This was the first time where I really, truly realized what it meant to be from a different world, from far away.
In this world, lives weree snatched away all too easily.
“…… I’m going home.”
It slipped out of my mouth.
“Princess, your voice…!”
Lilia and the other maids’ eyes opened wide.
“I’m taking Ellelucia, and I’m going home.”
At my fluent, specific words, Lilia stared at me.
When I lifted my head, I met Lilia’s gaze evenly.
I think this was when I finally decided. It wasn’t that I thought so explicitly at the time, but even so, I decided that I would live in this country.
Lilia knelt before me, and silently bowed her head.