“My apologies for the wait.”
I stared at the tea cup in front of me for a long time, frozen.
I slowly released my held breath and managed to squeeze some words out.
The porcelain white cup adorned with a golden rim was filled seventy percent of the way with an amber liquid. The color was normal. From what I could see so far, there were no hidden dangers.
I never had the luxury of elegantly enjoying the fragrance from the start. This was me trying to gain information from my senses. I was behaving this way to sniff out danger. It was also like a ritual to prepare myself for the worst.
I breathed it in and gasped.
Wide eyed, I stared at the black tea (in name only).
It smelled…like black tea…!!
Nothing could have prepared me for such a mundane turn of events.
Tickling my nose was not an offensive smell but a rather vibrant and fruity aroma. Judging from the notes of muscatel, he was probably using high quality second flush tea leaves.
Perhaps he used the same ingredients the last time as well, but that time it had no smell at all, far from muscatel. Completely odorless. I couldn’t even tell if the tea leaves used were Darjeeling or not.
Actually, if you recognized that lethal substance with its odorless yet killer flavor as high quality second flush tea, I think it would be considered a blasphemy against all black tea.
He stood a small distance away from me.
“What is it?”
“You made this, right?” I asked him, unsure.
Was it possible he recognized his own fatal household skills and had asked the maids for help?
But he nodded affirmatively, bright expression clouding over with worry.
“Yes. Is something amiss?”
I thought it cunning of him to only show humility at times like these.
It was more than scary enough that there wasn’t a problem, but to put it bluntly, it was hard to talk about it for some reason.
“No. It smells wonderful.”
It really did, which had the opposite effect of making it terrifying.
As soon as I threw him the compliment, his eyes lit up cheerfully. Klaus smiled with his entire face, an attractive line of red drawn across his cheeks as he blushed.
“I must confess, I have been practicing in secret in order to serve you a delicious cup of your favorite tea.”
I wondered what the heck his goals were. I inadvertently looked away.
Stop it, don’t do that! This is where you’re supposed to be moved.
I had to stop myself from completely recoiling while I pondered the reasons why my guard knight would feel the need learn how to brew tea. It was probably the moment I was supposed to be touched his dedication would take him so far to do something like that for my sake, but even imagining the suffering of the head maid who likely took him under her wings did not bring tears to my eyes. How cold.
Or, rather? If that did happen, then this cup of tea…
Could it miraculously be the real deal?
Hope blossomed in my chest as I stared at the gently swaying surface of the liquid.
I might be able to do this.
I took a gulp and prepared myself, holding my breath for a few seconds before taking a sip of the amber-colored drink.
My eyes bulged open as wide as those in comics.
Spreading through my mouth was an extreme bitterness and astringency, followed by a taste bud stinging acidity. A moment later, a thick sweetness came around and washed everything away.
My consciousness slipped into the deep end as the paradise of flavors rushed in with a force strong enough to kill my palate.
NOT A DAMN THING HAS CHAAAAANGED!!!
Who was it? The fool who hopefully said I might be able to survive this? It was me!
The color and smell were both on point while the flavor was exceptionally devastating. An unexpected trap—it created a false sense of safety which lulled you into relaxing while cutting you down from behind. This thing deserved a level of treatment on par with a tasteless and odorless poison.
I strengthened the fingers that were shaking so much they might drop tea cup, and lifted it up at an angle.
My survival instincts told me to spit it out, but I endured and swallowed the entire thing with watery eyes.
Gasping for air, I placed the empty cup back into its saucer.
“Than…k you…for the…tea.”
Downing an entire cup goes against prescribed princess etiquette, but I can’t say I cared. I felt very accomplished.
My stomach was heavily protesting the dead weight, but it should go away eventually. It’s bound to…maybe, surely. The stomach isn’t supposed to have any problems digesting tea.
Completely exhausted, I looked at him over a shoulder, all life drained from my face.
“There’s just one thing I want to know, Klaus. Did you put something in my tea?”
He shook his head, a little perplexed.
“No. Nothing particularly.”
I sighed. So it really was a miracle compound created from his devastating lack of sense?
“Um,” he said, looking as if something had struck his mind.
I hesitated to ask. “What?”
What was it? Did he put in something poisonous after all?
“I placed my allegiance and respect for Your Highness in the tea,” Klaus whispered with a sappy smile on his face.
A vein popped up on my forehead. Who could blame me for spectacularly losing my temper?
“Very well,” I said with unprecedented frost in my voice.
It seems like the lethal substance’s true identity has been revealed. Perhaps the truth of it was that he actually hated me?
I was giving him a look of absolutely zero warmth, but for some reason Klaus was staring happily back.
I faltered in the face of his warm expression, which differed from his self-satisfied look from earlier.
“Why are you smiling?”
“It seems you have returned to your normal self, Princess Rosemarie.”
You frowned the entire time, said Klaus as he pointed to my eyebrows.
I stared at him with rounded eyes.
Certainly, before I entered my father’s room I was coiled up with tension, and then I was preoccupied with thoughts of the Dark Lord after my departure.
The way I stared at my feet with furrows in my brows, did Klaus worry for me in his own way?
“I made you worry.”
“No. I could not help myself.”
If he saw my bitter regret, he would tell me to pay him no mind.
Frankly, it was extremely difficult for me to accept that looking at him with absolutely no warmth and being curt with him was my norm, but let’s ignore that for now.
My reaction was exactly what he had been expecting, given our usual banter, so it didn’t bother him at all.
“Couldn’t help it, huh?” I muttered, repeating his words to myself.
He looked at me strangely. “Princess Rosemarie?”
“Say, Klaus. May I tell you something?”
“By all means.”
“This is just an example, but suppose someone was gravely injured. For various reasons, they decide not to show their wounds to anyone and hide the fact. Do you think it would be wrong to forcibly disclose their secret?”
It was almost settled that Michael who became the Dark Lord’s host inside the game possessed powers. Judging from the Dark Lord’s powers, that strength was no small amount.
Would be right for me to divulge that fact?
“I wonder? If left unattended, the wound will probably fester and become rotten, so I cannot really recommend it.”
“Yes, but if they could treat it on their own, they might be able to live normally even if a scar remains.”
I asked Theo before, and he said he wouldn’t take off the limiter even though his control was much better now because his magic was easily influenced by rage.
He studied so hard but even he was not without his flaws. Where was my proof that Michael won’t run wild?
On the other hand, if Michael has survived these ten odd years until now without anyone knowing better, then he may already have control.
“Completely erasing all evidence of the wound would be impossible, but if properly treated and medicine is taken, it shouldn’t get worse. But if you expose what they’re hiding, the pain you inflict on their heart won’t be a small matter. Even if you think you’re in the right, when you look at it from their point of view, they may feel like their hand was forced.”
There will be a lot for Michael to study if he becomes an apprentice, and one day it might even personally help him.
As a fellow comrade with the similar powers like Lutz and Theo, I think the limiter may even help relieve the burden on his soul.
Yet, wizards are faced with many hardships in this world.
Their movements are limited, and they’re targeted by scum.
Should I leave him be, or expose him?
What was the right thing to do as a princess? And also, what did I want to do?
“I’m sorry, I said something strange.”
One way or another, I needed to make a decision by myself. Not being able to hold it in because the burden was too overwhelming was not good reason to involve Klaus.
Nevermind, I said, smiling self-deprecatingly.
Klaus cut me off when I tried to end the discussion, however.
“I can never possess keen insight like you do.”
“Therefore, I do not know what is right and what is wrong. However, to look at my lady’s lovely appearance, one cannot imagine her being as active as she is.”
It was troubling that I couldn’t tell whether he spoke praisingly or whether he spoke ill of me.
A doubtful look crossed my face, and for a moment I was quiet. Then, with a sigh, my tight expression eased.
“It certainly isn’t like me to stand around piddling.”
“Even if the doing brings regret, will you not regret it more should you do nothing?”
It was a great pressure forcefully bearing down on me.
If you don’t do it and regret it, then you might as well do it. Wasn’t that rather sloppy advice?
Ah, but maybe then I can lose these knots in my shoulders.
“Thank you,” I said quietly.
My bothersome and a handful-to-deal-with guard knight smiled at me like an older brother.