The Freislein palace stood on a slight hill that was a little removed from the town. Though it was rebuilt nearly a century ago, even now after the decades had passed, its beauty had not declined. The carefully constructed stone ramparts and the huge palace protected within them had kept their beautiful, white appearance and strength. Even in this time of peace, the castle was prepared for the unlikely event of a battle, and its beauty itself became a symbol of peace and development. The Freislein palace stood atop the small hill, watching over the developing country.
The princesses arriving back at the palace had no time for rest and set about their next duties. The Freislein Kingdom would actually be holding a huge ceremony in the next few days, and the girls were working on preparations for it.
The memorial of the end of the Great Demon War.
It was a celebration, of the end of the huge war that had allowed the founding of the Freislein Kingdom. Furthermore, it was the two hundredth anniversary, so the plans were for it to be much bigger than the average year’s. Dignitaries from neighbouring countries were invited and the country as a whole would be celebrating. Thanks to this, the capital, Rein, was filled with a festive mood. The streets were already being decorated and stalls and touring performers were gathering. The town was heaving with excitement many times that of the annual Autumn Harvest Festival.
The princesses had been travelling by carriage to participate in the ceremony. Of course, one held in the two hundredth year since would have to be attended by the royal family, so while Ceres should have still been in the alliance meeting in a nearby country, they had headed for home after solving the main issues, leaving the rest to the prime minister, Claas. Because of the circumstances, the girls were in the midst of a harsh schedule with nearly no time for rest.
“Good timing, Al.”
“Did you need something, lady Ceres?”
“I thought I might get you to check over my speech.”
“Understood, I’ll do it now.”
And the princesses being busy, meant that Al too, acting as support, was busy. From the time they had arrived back, he too had been working without rest. Even now, he had come to bring documents to Ceres.
“Though I would rather not put it like this, in exchange, would you look over this document, and if it seems appropriate, permit the implementation of the measures, princess?”
“I understand, they are approved.”
With just a glance at the papers, Ceres gave her approval. However, the document amounted to several pages, so she couldn’t have known everything inside with that alone. So Al frowned slightly and rebuked her.
“Princess, please read it properly.”
“Oh, but if it’s something you’ve made, I don’t need to.”
Ceres had a high estimation of how Al worked, he was still an apprentice, but he was serious, careful, and didn’t cut corners. He was someone she would much rather leave work to than unskilled bureaucrats
“Is this perhaps to do with what you were talking to the farmers about in secret earlier?”
“That is correct.”
Al’s problems lay with his speed in routine work that he was inexperienced in, there should be no need to take that into account with work that required quick responses like this document.
“To put it simply, the water temperature in the river this year is a little high, so they expect some illness in the wheat in the second season, to avoid that, they wish to improve the soil ahead of time.”
“See, it’s fine to approve, isn’t it?”
Ceres smiled proudly, the conclusion being just what she had imagined. At the same time, she was happy that Al had worked more than he was expected to. When the carriage stopped, Al had not overlooked the farmers and listened to them. That kind of attention to detail was required in the governance that Ceres was aiming for. So just as Al was proud of her, she was proud of his growth and felt it promising.
“…So, Al, do I really have to read it?”
So perhaps because of that, she slacked the reins just a little. Her nerves had been frayed with constant diplomacy, and once that was over, they were rushed straight back home. Being in a room with just Al and her sisters, it was inevitable she’d relax a little. However splendid a princess she was, she was still fifteen.
“Then let’s do this,” Al understood this too, so without putting pressure on the princess, he proposed a secondary plan, “give preliminary approval to the farmers’ request and progress the work. While that happens, please read the document.”
“So I’ll read it in the end…”
“I cannot work with no mistakes like the prime minister, so I need you to check over the contents too, princess.”
Al’s master was the head of the court magicians, Claas Heidemann. He had served the Freislein royal family for decades, and his loyalty, along with his surety in his work, lead to him being the most respected amongst the civil servants. It was precisely because he was like that, that they were able to leave the rest of the conference, small matters though they were, to him. Al didn’t have the surety in his work that Claas did, so he felt it necessary to have Ceres check it over too. Though in the future, he hoped to have that same surety as Claas.
“That’s Claas’ apprentice, you’ve got it together.”
“Princess, please relax until I have finished checking the speech. I do not mind you reading those documents tomorrow.”
“…Thank you, Al.”
Al stepped out into the corridor where he gave the message about the document to a bodyguard before returning to Ceres’ side and starting to check the manuscript.
The manuscript was written in characters familiar to Al, neat and well-formed. There were a few parts that were idealistic, but in this era of peace, it was kept within an appropriate scope. The speech was a beautiful harmony of Ceres’ sense of balance with regards to politics, and the morals of the ideal government she was aiming for.
“And of course, there’s nothing to change in her highness’ speech…”
Al unintentionally smiled wryly, he too had known with just a look at the cover that there wasn’t anything to fix. And even if there were, it wouldn’t have anything to do with the contents, it would be something like the spelling of words. In reality, Al’s impression was correct, but he still checked it over properly. This was Al’s job, and if there were no mistakes, he would have to tell her there were no mistakes. If he did that, then even if there was nothing to change, Cerest would be more confident in her speech than if it hadn’t been checked at all.
After some time had passed since Al had started checking the script, Ceres’ small sigh reached his ears. He glanced briefly towards her and saw that she had sank deeply into her chair and had both eyes closed.
“She really does seem tired… The work will probably go better overall if we end it slightly earlier today and revise the schedule…”
Al stopped his checking and began mentally revising Ceres’ schedule.
Ceres was managing the country in place of the king on his sickbed, so her schedule was extremely full. On top of that, it was packed with participation in the alliance meeting to open up the country and plans entwined with the ceremony. While reorganising her schedule, Al once again realised that because Ceres was amazing, she was somehow able to pull through, but if she weren’t the situation would be much worse.
“Lady Sheila, do you have a moment?”
After pondering for a while, Al called past the partition screen in the corner of the room. Sheila was having a fitting session for the ceremony behind there.
As he called, Sheila’s face appeared above the partition. She felt it was too troublesome to circle around, so stood on a nearby clothing box and looked down at Al.
“I have something I want to ask you.”
As he was revising Ceres’ schedule, there was something he absolutely had to keep track of time for, Al thought he would get Sheila to do it for him.
“Wait a minute, I’ll be right there.”
Sheila quickly pulled her head down, and started doing something behind the partition. From the rustling of clothes, Al surmised that she was dressing herself.
“Was she in her underwear…?”
Pinkening at his poor timing, Al waited for her.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, so, Al, what is it?”
But, upon appearing from the shade of the partition, Sheila was in the exact opposite state than Al’s expectations.
“What are you doing dressed like that!?”
“What are you shocked about? My swimsuit last year was much more exposing, right?”
Sheila was in her underwear, and trying to emphasise the lines of her body to Al, whose eyes were wide in shock. She’d come out like this specifically to shock Al.
“Oh my, Al, you’ve gone so red… would you like to touch?”
Shelia had a teasing smile as she steadily advanced upon Al. He was her childhood friend, and other than Al, there were no males near her age that she was close to, so her teasing like this nearly always fell upon Al.
“Like I’d touch them!”
Al refused with all his might. He couldn’t do that. As he spoke, Sheila’s smile vanished and she pouted in displeasure.
“Don’t say it like that, it makes it sound like you won’t touch me because you dislike me.”
Having a boy she was close to say that was a significant shock to her. If he actually had have done, she might have been troubled, but being denied so forcefully like that was upsetting, she was at that age.
“Lady Sheila, please understand your value a little more. A princess does not have such a low value to be wasted on teasing a court magician apprentice!”
Al would never say he wouldn’t touch her because he disliked her. If it were allowed, he would cheerfully play around with her like he used to when he didn’t know the difference between them. But that was no longer permitted. Sheila was the nation’s treasure, and Al worked for her, so he could never do something that would blemish her shine.
Sheila’s anger was extinguished all at once. In its place was shyness, and a bright red face. Al’s words were telling her to have more awareness of herself, but they also told her upfront that he thought she was beautiful. And with Al’s honesty, it was clear they weren’t platitudes. So Sheila had been unexpectedly told she was beautiful whilst face to face with Al. To Sheila, that was far, far more embarrassing than being seen in her underwear.
“Y-you can’t say that, it’s not fair…”
In the end, Sheila’s prank to trouble Al had troubled her instead. On top of that, the timing was the worst, she was in her underwear looking like an idiot. She was so embarrassed she couldn’t look Al in the eyes.
Sheila squeezed out a mumble and cast her eyes down, that was all she could do.
“Fu fu fu, what a relief, right, Sheila…”
Ceres looked fondly at Sheila. She knew how Sheila felt about Al, she understood better than anyone how Sheila was feeling right now. Probably even more than she herself did. And she wished that sometime — though it was very hard — that her feelings would be conveyed. So Ceres’ face was just that of wishing her sister happiness.
“Fu fu fu fu.”
Through Ceres’ intervention, Sheila regained some of her calm, and at the same time, realised Ceres’ complicated emotions.
“Sis, you’re really…”
Ceres was the first princess, even marriage was a political tool, she was not allowed to love freely, even more than Sheila. To give her sisters freedom, Sheila intended to get a favourable marriage. But that didn’t mean that Ceres didn’t have a man she loved. Ceres would contain those feelings and marry another man. If she couldn’t marry freely regardless, she wished to at least make sure her sisters were free to marry as they wished. That was the tragic resolve hidden behind Ceres’ smile.
Then, just as Sheila was about to say something to Ceres, the door to the princesses’ room opened and the sounds overlapped.
“Big sister, Alll, I bought snacks!”
“Keeping on working with no break is bad for your body. Break time, break time!”
From behind the door, Estelle carrying a tray full of snacks and Urop pushing a cart with tea on it appeared together.
Estelle had only just turned ten, so she didn’t have many jobs, and Urop was in charge of watching over her. That was in name only though, the two were close in mental age and just played around together.
That said, they were conscious of Al and the others as the ceremony approached, so made them tea. Of course, that they wanted to eat sweets was probably also part of it.
Sheila shut her mouth and swallowed the words she was going to say because it was something she didn’t want Estelle to hear. Sheila soon recovered herself and smiled at Estelle and Urop.
“You guys, you’re so thoughtful, aren’t you? Wait a minute, I’ll go get dressed.”
Sheila walked lightly and vanished past the partition. She too preferred sweets than work.
“Maybe you shouldn’t eat any, Sheila? You got fat after all.”
“Shut up, Urop!”
Sheila’s shout of anger came from the other side of the partition. However, Urop seemed to pay it no mind, and kept humming as he continued preparing the tea.
“It’s cake today, we got the cake the head chef made as a test.”
Estelle placed the tray she was carrying on the table in the centre of the room. On top of the tray were things that were planned for serving in the party after the ceremony. This was actually one that the head chef had made as a trial and having caught a whiff of it, Estelle and Urop had taken advantage of it.
Estelle pushed the tray into the table’s centre and then rushed over to Al who was checking the manuscript next to Ceres’ desk.
“And this is for you, Al.”
Estelle reached into her pocket and took out a small bundle. It was something wrapped in Estelle’s handkerchief. She slowly unwrapped it and held it in front of Al’s face.
“See, I saved the snacks for you!”
Wrapped in the handkerchief were the snacks prepared for the carriage. They were chosen to keep well, consisting mainly of cookies and baked sweets. Estelle had kept the promise she had given Al and brought them here.
Al was moved a little at Estelle’s honesty in keeping the promise.
He had originally intended to take a break after finishing the manuscript, but he couldn’t bring himself to tell Estelle to wait like that, so while it was a little early, decided to take a break then.
“…Thank you, Lady Estelle.”
Estelle happily presented her head to Al. This was a characteristic act of hers when she wanted praise. Al put his hand on her head and softly stroked it. As he did, Estelle’s expression grew all the happier.
“This really isn’t good…”
While she was young, Estelle was still royalty. A retainer stroking royalty’s head couldn’t be spoken well of, it would have to stop before long. That said, with her father on his sickbed, young Estelle being starved for acts like this was true. So he couldn’t just stop there and then. And Al was a little relieved it wouldn’t be stopping yet. It would be lonely for his childhood friend too if he couldn’t praise her like this.
“Lady Ceres, since they are here, shall we have a break with Lady Estelle?”
While stroking Estelle’s head, he looked to his respected lady and soon found his eyes caught by Ceres’, she had been watching him since before he turned to talk to her.
Ceres’ gaze was strange, while her eyes were filled with an endless kindness, they seemed like she was looking at something dazzling. However, it was only for an instant before she smiled and nodded at Al’s words.
“Let’s. I will need the energy to read your document.”
“Fu fu fu.”
Like this, they all stopped work for now and took a break, and because Ceres had returned to normal, Al left it without knowing the meaning behind the instant that Ceres showed a chink in her gaze.