Three days have passed since then.
I was told that Hilde’s injury wasn’t too serious, and she was already moving about. It seemed like they’d begun interrogating her, with a physician close at hand.
Niklas has been placed under house arrest, but there was still no evidence of him being in contact with other kingdoms. Even when it came to passing down judgment for the destruction of evidence in the Hilde matter, all they had was the girl’s testimony, which wasn’t strong enough to convict him.
The matter was quite capable of turning into an endless argument, especially when it was highly likely she hadn’t been informed about the most important part of their plans—how they intended to abduct Lutz.
The system wasn’t “innocent until proven guilty”, but without evidence it was difficult to pass judgment on an earl’s son.
As it was, Niklas may become anxious from having failed to deal the killing blow to Hilde.
The knights hadn’t bided all this time only to have the culprits slip through their hands.
If I hadn’t disturbed their operation, would the case have gone more smoothly? I wondered, but no answers came to me.
I wanted to help after all the trouble I’d caused, but what could I do?
Depressed, I laid in the middle of my bed and sighed.
I’d been confined inside again, and now the day was already over. Since I barely moved around, I didn’t feel sleepy at all. I tried to read books to pass the time, but nothing got processed.
It was now after midnight.
I just finished telling myself I should sleep when a sound came from my bedroom door.
It was a preposterous hour for anyone to visit an unmarried girl’s room, much less the princess.
Who could it be? I wondered warily, when an unexpected voice came through the door.
“Rosé, it’s me. May I enter?”
In a fluster, I put on a thin shawl and slipped off my bed. I opened the door to find Christof was standing there with his usual expressionless self.
He looked exactly like he’d been working until this very moment.
“…please, come in.”
Who visited a young girl’s room in the middle of the night, even if she happened to be his 10 year old little sister? I thought it was out of character for my serious brother, but I still let him in. He was my brother. What else could I do?
“Shall I prepare tea?”
He threw himself onto the couch with a plomp, and beckoned me closer with a hand.
Lost, I approached him. When I got close enough, he grabbed my hand and guided me to the couch. Unable to run the opposite way, I was seated right beside to him.
What in the world?
Even if I hadn’t been taken by surprise, this was probably the first we had ever been so close. I could see the texture on his skin, and the irises of his eyes.
His ice blue eyes looked grey from an angle.
Seemingly unoffended by my fixation on his face, he grabbed my shoulders and pulled me toward him.
Giving in to his pressure, I found myself stretched out on the couch, my head in his lap.
W-wait a minute…he wants me to use his lap as a pillow…?
“Shall we have a little talk?”
“I don’t mind, but…why like this?”
Shaken, I found his actions even stranger than I’d originally thought, but he was otherwise behaving exactly the same. The tone of his voice was even, and no expression marred his face.
Was this how siblings acted? Now that I thought about it, I had done this for Johan before, but this was the first time I’d ever had someone offer me the same.
“The hour is late. If you get tired, you can sleep like that.”
How was I going to do that?
I couldn’t possibly sleep with my head on my brother’s lap! I was so aware of him I couldn’t calm down, and well, it wasn’t very comfortable. Chris didn’t reek of body odor, but his body was quite muscular. He was a guy, all right.
It was obvious there were a lot of things I wanted to say. His eyes narrowed slightly, and the corners of his mouth quirked in amusement.
“Let me do something brotherly once in a while,” he said.
When he made his request with that mature expression of his, I became embarrassed thinking about how I’d acted like a whining child.
Unable to look him in the eyes, I could hear his quiet laugh when I suddenly turned away.
“Because I can’t even offer a single word of indulgence, I’m only ever strict to you and Johan.”
“That’s not true.”
He had already done plenty for me.
I truly believed that, but his smile turned bitter.
“It is. At your age, you should still be allowed to sit on your mother’s lap, asking to be spoiled. However, because of me, and our parents, you had to obediently hold in all of your worry, anger, and sorrow.”
“You were there for Johan, but there was no one there for you. You had no choice but to grow up in order to protect him. Yet, when it came to yourself, you insisted you were fine and couldn’t even bring yourself to complain or rely on anyone else. Not to me, nor to those around you.”
“Even though you are still a ten year old girl,” Chris said, patting my head.
Unfamiliar with the act, the motion of his hand was awkward, but heartfelt. Even the gentleness of his voice and gaze made me feel like I was loved, and my eyes started to burn for some reason.
The moment the energy flowed from my stiff body, the sound of glass breaking could be heard from far away.
I bolted upright like I’d been shocked. But, before I could get off the couch, I was stopped by his hand.
“It’s fine,” Chris very calmly told me.
He should have also known from the sound that something was out of place. Nothing should have disturbed the peace, but the palace was becoming noisy.
“Wha-what…how is anything fine?!” I replied in outrage as the sound of several footsteps ran by. It was obvious something was going on, what the hell was “fine”?
“Stay here. It’s fine.”
He looked me straight in the eye, not an inkling of doubt to be seen. Only my reflection.
He pulled me into his arms and hugged me close, like he was trying to keep the commotion at bay. Wrapping an arm around my head, he gently covered the ear that wasn’t pushed against his chest.
I could no longer hear. There was nothing else beyond the sound of my heart, and my brother’s.
Right now, even while I was being protected within my brother’s arms, “something” was happening.
From the calm way Chris was reacting, everything was probably going the way he’d predicted it would.
As the targets, Lutz and Theo had probably been informed as well.
The only one who didn’t know, the only one kept in the dark…was me.
I’d wanted to do something, anything. But there was nothing I could do.
Who was I kidding?
This was the response I got—protection by others.
I was powerless.
The anguished sound of Chris’s voice reached me, his hand sliding down from my ear to wipe my tears.
“Even if I push you to trust me, or protect you without your knowing, in the end, I still let you cry. I’m a hopeless brother to you.”
It wasn’t his fault; it was mine.
I only had to believe in others, but I didn’t even have the strength to do that. I only had to place the entirety of my trust in others as the situation arose, but I couldn’t do that either. It was my fault for being so indecisive.
I want to become stronger.
Impatience and great hunger both filled me from the bottom of my heart.