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   My mind had wandered, but I came back to my senses when someone grabbed my hand.

   “I think that’s enough. Water.”

   When he pointed it out, I recalled what what I was doing. I was inside the greenhouse, watering the medicinal herbs.


   The round leaves drooped under an armful of drops where I kept dumping water, the earth more than damp enough. If I watered any more, the plants would rot.
   I thanked him for stopping me.

   “Thank you, Theo.”

   “You’re welcome.”

   Releasing me, Theo smiled, but it didn’t clear away his worried expression, his dark red eyes reflecting the things he wanted to say.

   For a brief period he hesitated, looking downward and carefully choosing his words before he said, “Princess…are you worried about something?”

   Even if he could tell I was troubled by something, he worried about overstepping his boundaries.

   “He’s right. Hey you, something’s weird.”


   When in the world did he come up to us?
   Lutz was suddenly standing behind me, peering into my face.

   “You’ve been out of sorts all day. When others talk to you, you don’t pay attention, and your responses are halfhearted. It’s not like you.”

   In contrast to Theo, Lutz was straightforward and always gave me a piece of his mind.
   Their appearances were exact opposites. Even their personalities were different, but the worry they both expressed were the same.

   “I’m sorry, you two.”

   Feeling guilty, I apologized, but Lutz immediately repudiated my effort.

   “Don’t apologize! We…we’re not trying to make you do that.”

   Maybe he felt frustrated with his inability to explain himself well, because he impatiently shook his head. He wasn’t angry, but the way he spoke was biting, so Theo took over the conversation and backed him up.

   “Lutz and I only worry because you don’t seem well, princess.”

   Right? he turned to Lutz for confirmation, and Lutz energetically nodded. They made such a good duo.

   “If something’s bothering you, tell us. What we can do is limited, but there may be something we can do to help.”

   “Thank you…”

   What a good pair of children. I was really touched by their concern.
   Because I’m the so-called princess, I’ve never made any friends close to my age. I was glad to have these two who cared about me like this.

   However, there was no way I could tell them what my true fears were about.
   I’d already decided telling them about how the future might play out when they’re being targeted would be too risky. There was no telling where eyes and ears might be lurking.

   “…but I’m fine. Yesterday was a little too humid, so I didn’t get enough sleep.”

   That was only half the truth.
   Last night, I was so occupied with my thoughts I couldn’t fall asleep. That was the reason why I was so absentminded.

   “Then you shouldn’t be in such a hot place! Come on, why don’t you go take a rest over there.”


   Pushed from behind, I was forcefully ejected from the greenhouse, and dragged to the adjoining rest area where ventilation was much better.

   “Lu, Lutz?”

   “Just do what I say. Don’t come back inside the greenhouse today.”


   “We’ll take care of the watering, princess. Please take it easy.”

   Saying that like they were trying to soothe a little child, they went back inside. Dumbfounded, I was left behind with only my guard knight nearby.

   “Why not accept their goodwill and take a moment to rest?”

   Even Klaus was breaking habit to chide me!
   They’d been giving me quite an earful lately. Was I prone to rushing into danger without even realizing it?


   When I sat on a chair and relaxed, Klaus’s forbidding expression let up.

   “I will arrange for something to drink.”


   After quenching my thirst with the black tea brought to me, I gazed at the greenhouse.

   I thought about how well I’d come to know them, little by little, and vowed I would never allow such good children to become tools for war.

   I decided to take a moment to sort through the information I had.

   There was a likely chance Niklas von Buelow was the traitor.

   He was of slim build, and carried his sword on his right hip. His light chestnut-colored hair reached down to the middle of his back, and he often wore it tied at the back of his neck.

   His evaluation as a royal knight wasn’t particularly bad, either, and he carried out his duty with solemnity.
   While his looks were just average, I could see how his calm demeanor would be popular with the ladies.

   I’ve also confirmed that his family held the peerage of earl. However, it seemed like the the financial circumstances of their purse strings were quite disastrous.
   The wife of the previous generation’s earl had been a big spendthrift, and the Buelow House was now on the verge of ruin. Gossip had it they were somehow only barely managing to hang on to their rank by taking out loans here and there.

   If things were that bad, it was easy to see money would be his goal.

   Perhaps he had been promised a position in the other kingdom?
   Without a perk like that, no one would willing to take such a big risk.

   With the doom of his entire family and his own life at stake, Niklas could not allow himself to fail.


   Having gotten this far, something else occurred to me.
   Not only was it imperative he not fail, it was already too late for him to turn back. In that sort of pressing situation, what would happen to Hilde when her usefulness was exhausted…?

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