From then onward, Arche's everyday life changed to a more productive one. To be precise, it 『returned』to normal is what one would say. It returned to the way it was before the revival of the demon king, long before Agedilus left on his journey.
That day, she gardened and pruned leaves like she did every single day. Finally finishing the harvest, she took her hood off. Holding the basket full to the brim with the harvest, a smile grew on Arche's face. Compared to before, the freckles on her face had remarkably decreased.
She was doing her unchanging job as a gardener like usual. But today, there was one thing that was different.
「Will Sir Agedilus be pleased with this, I wonder?」
The shears in her hand made a click. She carefully, carefully cut off the stems of the white flowers, dropping it into the bag she held in her other hand so the petals wouldn't get damaged.
The soft scent of the flowers tickled her nose. These flowers were from one of the herbs Agedilus had ordered her to grow some weeks ago. With their petals delicately overlapping each other, the white flowers smelled so strong and sweet that she could have plucked them before they even bloomed.
When Arche found that the herb had flowered early today, her heart throbbed with excitement. Today was the very day that Agedilus would show up. She couldn't hold back the grin from her face as she thought about giving him the flowers that had bloomed today.
What would Agedilus say? He would be so pleased. And not just that, maybe…
——Maybe, just maybe, he'd be more than pleased… Maybe, he'd… Kyaaa!
Face turning red, Arche waved her hand about. That was when she heard him.
Arche literally jumped in the air at the sudden voice from behind.
She timidly turned around to see that beautiful being, all the more beautiful with his jet black hair. Arche stiffened as he narrowed his sunrise-colored eyes in puzzlement at her, those eyes placed so exquisitely on his face. Androgynously beautiful in a way that couldn't be described with words like 'intense' or 'powerful'. Arche could never get used to that beauty, and that jet black hair that made her feel nothing but fear.
She was so flustered she felt like she might drop the basket in which she'd put those white flowers in full bloom. Thankfully, she managed to avoid that tragedy by holding it with both hands, letting out a sigh of relief.
「What are you messing about for?」
That surprised-sounding voice had such a strong impact to the one being talked to, precisely because it was so beautiful. She instinctively lowered her head, disheartened at the words that pierced into her heart. But then Arche tried to think, 'that's just what he's like,' and held out the basket to Agedilus.
「Um, these are the herbs you mentioned before. They bloomed early, so I wanted to show you right away!」
Her heart was so noisy as it throbbed with nervousness and expectation. That's right, these was the flowers that Arche had painstakingly looked after from when the herb was just a potted plant until it flowered.
It was a completely different matter from that Delia she had given Agedilus long ago. Back then, she really didn't think anything about it. But now that she knew she was in love, it was different.
She didn't want to give them to just anyone, but only him. She didn't want anyone else to receive them, only him. Those flowers were packed with all the feelings Arche had. She wanted him to be pleased, even if only a little. And if he was…
He took the basket from Arche's hands. Taking out one white flower from the inside, Agedilus brought it to his face as if checking it. That gesture looked so picturesque, Arche was fascinated by it. Agedilus then raised his face towards her.
「……I see. Thank you.」
Softly, Agedilus smiled. That frozen, androgynous beauty thawed to reveal a glossy, large flower blooming. A smile that would shame even a night fairy. A smile so different from his usual, cynical smile.
Ah, she really wanted to see this face again. The same as when she first realized she was in love - no, in fact, even more sweet, that smile like melted honey.
In the end, she didn't want anything fancy or grandiose from him. In fact, there was nothing particular that she wanted. She just wanted him to smile, and that was enough.
This tender, soft smiling face aimed just towards Arche——
「She'll like these too.」
Arche couldn't help but tilt her head at the unexpected words from Agedilus's sweet lips. It was an unconscious, instinctive gesture she made but it revealed Arche's innermost thoughts. Her thoughts couldn't catch up. 『She.』
Agedilus spoke of 『someone』 Arche didn't know with a tender, soft smile on his face. Because she was Arche, she realized that his smile and his voice were not aimed towards her. But that was why she didn't understand what he meant. She didn't want to understand.
「Um, who's 'she'?」
Despite that, her mouth moved by itself, asking Agedilus that. She didn't want to ask a question like this. She didn't want to hear the answer to it either.
His sunrise-colored eyes shook at Arche's question. Hesitating, as if wondering if it was alright to answer or not. Like a child would hesitate when showing his most beloved treasure. But in the end, after a short silence, Agedilus opened his mouth as Arche stood stiff.
W-i-f-e. Wife. She pondered over that word, dumbfounded. Even though she didn't want to know the meaning of it, she just had to ask.
Her mouth was parched, dried up. She didn't even know what she was saying.
「…have a wife?」
Agedilus nodded. The smile had disappeared from his face at this point, but that gentle atmosphere remained unchanged. This wasn't the Agedilus that Arche knew. No, just who was the Agedilus she knew in the first place? Confused, she suddenly couldn't understand anything.
Agedilus didn't seem to notice her shock at all……. Yes, he really hadn't noticed it. He had his eyes softly narrowed at the white flower in his hand, as if picturing that 『someone』. That voice that was supposed to be so pleasing to hear, was now about to say something Arche didn't want to hear at all.
'Wait. Stop.' Those soundless words didn't reach the beautiful person in front of her.
「Since I got married.」
She felt like in front of her stood something completely different. Ah, that's right. This person with jet black hair, too beautiful, couldn't be the same creature as her. That thought raced through her mind in a second. She felt strangely calm, like she was somehow watching herself from afar.
Just the other day, she'd heard something about him having a fiancée since his childhood. She had indeed heard those short, matter-of-fact words but she hadn't thought much of them at all.
She didn't remember very well what happened after that. What did she reply to Agedilus, or did she not say anything at all? How did she see him off as he left the medicinal plants garden? How did she reach home, leaving the royal palace? She didn't know. She didn't want to know.
She got in bed right away, the next day started, and then she went to the royal palace garden like usual. Just like usual. Not one thing had changed. That's how it was supposed to be. Even though her father had given her puzzled glances, Arche meant to go about her day as usual.
「I'm lost again…」
Arche had meant to go to Agedilus's garden that she was entrusted with, carrying the pruning shears she'd got from her father like usual. And yet, somehow what spread out before her was a pond she'd never seen before.
The words she'd muttered without thinking all fell in vain to the middle of the pond, dissolving in it. Of course, that's why there was no way she'd get a response. Arche sighed, sitting down at the edge of the pond.
She didn't know at all why this had happened. She was supposed to take the same way as usual, but she'd probably made a mistake somewhere. Getting lost in the royal palace's garden, it felt just like that one time she'd accidentally entered the Black Lotus Court.
She'd met that beautiful gentleman that day. Until yesterday, just imagining him or hearing his voice would make her unbelievably happy.
The deserted pond was quiet. It was just calm, no sounds except for the occasional chirping of birds. The water's surface glittered in the sunlight. It was so dazzling, so beautiful. And compared to that, what was she like?
She threw a pebble near her into the pond. It made a splash, creating ripples around it, and then sank all too quickly.
「I'm acting like an idiot.」
Holding her knees, she buried her face into them. She was acting like an idiot. No, she really was an idiot. Just being all merry as she pleased, hoping for too much just like that. She'd rather laugh at herself, how dare she stay like that for so long without thinking?
That's true, right? She knew it from the start. She knew there was absolutely no way she could get married to a being so different from her in just about everything. In looks, in social status, in job positions, there was absolutely nothing about her that matched him. There wasn't a single thing she and Agedilus had in common.
There were already so many unavoidable differences between them, and now he was one of the heroes that saved the world. Just the fact that she, a lowly gardener, had even fallen in love with him was too absurd and beyond her position in itself.
Her voice was smaller, lower than before. It was strange, even for her. There was no use being sad at this point. She meant to only allow being sad until last night. This was not what she should be worrying about, as the royal palace's purveying gardener. If she had the time to sit around and be sad, she should've gotten up right away and headed towards Agedilus's garden. She knew that. She knew that, but for some reason she couldn't find the willpower to stand.
The sunlight that gently came down felt like it was piercing her skin. That mustn't happen - if she kept getting direct sunlight like this, freckles would show up on her skin again. She'd put so much effort into getting rid of them, until finally they'd started fading away. Just recently she'd delighted in front of a mirror, but now with this sun… Ah, but.
——There's no need to try so hard anymore, right?
The reason she'd wanted to become pretty had vanished yesterday. Considering that, it might have been all the more okay for her to sit here until she burned to a black crisp. She knew, 'I'm being careless,' but she couldn't stop it.
As Arche was trapped by her crumbling senses by her feet, a shadow fell over her.
「What are you doing in a place like this?」
Arche slowly lifted her head without thinking at the sound of an unfamiliar voice behind her.
In fact, just who was this person, coming to 『a place like this』? She just wanted to be left alone. In the middle of her completely depressed thoughts, she slowly turned around.
「Shall I call for someone if you're not feeling well?」
That person was bending over, holding a parasol in one hand to let Arche have the shade. She gazed at Arche in worry.
She didn't know what to say, remaining sitting and lifting her head up. That person tilted her head worriedly, a small smile on her face. That reaction brought Arche back to her senses.
There was a woman there, definitely some years older than Arche. Naturally, it was the first time Arche was meeting her.
Her loosely plaited long hair had small ornaments nimbly put in it, ornaments shaped like vines and small flowers. She held her parasol with both hands, covered in delicately laced gloves with frills. She wore a simple, refined dress that wasn't showy.
With a glance, anyone could tell she was a daughter from a noble family.
Arche didn't know what exactly this woman's social status was, but she didn't have good memories associated with aristocrat noblewomen, so she was about to put herself on guard. But the reason she felt at ease and didn't do that was because of the atmosphere this woman had. This calming air was different from the air of the noblewomen that Arche had come into contact with.
Unlike the noblewomen that would put on airs of self-importance, this woman made her feel close to her with her gentle, soft air about her. It made Arche remember her own mother, who had died some years ago. This woman's anxious, worried voice only encouraged Arche's tears.
——Oh no, what do I do?
Arche's friend circle wasn't that big in the first place. That was only natural, considering most of her day was taken up by tending to plants. But this time, she regretted it. There was no way she could talk about this to her father, and she couldn't find a chance to vent to a close friend. And now, it had turned out like this. Whenever things turned out badly, she would always ask her mother for advice. But now her mother wasn't here anymore.
In other words, she'd reached her limit.