“Sir Leon?” I asked in a small voice.
No answer. Rather than say he ignored me, it was more accurate to describe him as deep in thought.
The tension fell off my shoulders, and I released a sliver of breath.
It seems I’ve dodged this landmine, even if only for smallest fraction of time. If there was no escaping a lecture, then I thought I’d rather take one from Sir Leonhard, but the idea of incurring his dislike and disappointment filled me with aversion.
With bated breath, I watched him intently, but he did not stir.
His downcast eyes were fixed on an empty spot, and lock of hair cast a shadow on his forehead. It swayed with the motion of the carriage.His long, rough fingers were propped against the strong line of his jaw.
This was hardly the appropriate time or place, but I couldn’t help staring.
I’m usually so nervous I can’t look at him straight, but in this one instance where he paid me no mind, I could safely look to my heart’s content. From the faintest hint of a scar on his earlobe to the unexpected length of his eyelashes, I found myself eagerly taking note of every little detail.
Definitely not the time to do this.
Reason demanded I act with prudence, warring with my giddy emotions. Even though the two were in conflict, I couldn’t take my eyes off him, and slowly his eyes met mine.
“Y-yes?!” My voice squeaked as I answered with a start.
“Princess?” he repeated, baffled. Is something wrong? was the unspoken question. I didn’t know how to answer. I wasn’t bold enough to tell him I had been mesmerized by him.
“You don’t feel well after all.”
“No! I, um, I was just, well, thinking.”
Staring at his face while he’s doing the thinking, you mean? a voice mocked.
“In any case, what did you want to talk about, Sir Leon?”
Whether he knew I was covering up or not, Sir Leonhard followed my lead.
He sighed, but nothing followed. It seemed to me like he was having difficulty getting it out. He laced the hands between his legs many times. After the indecisive pause, he began to speak.
“You said previously that you had no intention of relying on Prince Christof. Have your feelings changed?”
I blinked. The same thing had happened before when I told him I’d spoken to my father. I had a proper response then, surely.
Weren’t we done? Caught off guard, I couldn’t hide my surprise.
“Why do you mention this?” I asked evasively.
It wasn’t like him to revisit a closed topic, and my voice unintentionally turned accusing. His brows lowered slightly, as if he was troubled and stuck for words.
Watching him, anxiety filled my heart.
It hurt to think he didn’t believe in me.
“Is it because you don’t think I’m reliable?”
Pessimism dripped from every word.
“That’s not it,” he replied promptly. “When I think of how intelligent you are, it’s easy to predict that one day you will catch His Majesty’s attention, but it is still much too early for you.”
In other words, he was saying I’m inexperienced.
Unlike my brother, I’ve never engaged in politics, which means there hasn’t been chance for me to display my competency. Therefore, even if I showed something of merit, he probably thought I’d have to go above and beyond.
“It is unwise to do anything by half measures. If His Majesty recognizes your brilliance and plans to it, then there shouldn’t be a problem. But if you are being judged for how useful you can be, then the situation is gravely different. When it comes to the best use for a princess of the realm—there’s no pleasant way to say it—the first thing that comes to mind is marriage.”
“Hyuh!” I inhaled sharply.
He just threw the bomb I’ve been avoiding in my lap. I couldn’t bring myself to face it, so to now be confronted by it, all I could do was freeze. It only took him a moment to study my face and read the situation. His already dubious expression became even more so.
My head hung low. I said nothing, quiet with shame.
His voice was husky with surprise and impatience.
“Princess, say it’s not—”
My hand, which had been holding onto my skirt, squeezed tight..
“It won’t happen immediately!”
Ahh, what are you saying, Rosemarie.
I was appalled at my outburst, but my mouth kept running on its own.
“He gave me two years until the Crown Prince of Wind comes of age!”
“Two years?” he murmured gravely.
I flinched. That’s it? I seemed to hear. Was I being too defensive? Heat gathered in my nose and stung. I rebuked myself for wanting to cry, bit my lip and held it in.
“If I can prove my worth in that time, I…”
May be able to marry the one I love, I started to say, and stopped. I was getting ahead of myself.
Even if I produced the results my father wanted and he officially acknowledged me.
Even if I could freely choose who to marry.
The likelihood of being with Sir Leonhard was still close to null.
It struck me. Sir Leonhard never once batted an eye at all these talks of a political marriage for me. My chances of having my first love coming true had always, always been lower than my chances of being acknowledged by father.
Depressed, my head hung steadily lower. A silence filled the carriage.
Looking at the hand which had creased my skirt, I rubbed my nails with a finger and repeated the meaningless action absently. I only lifted my head when he stirred and found his serious gaze on me.
“Perhaps you should make an exception this time and rely on Prince Christof?”
“No!” I said before I knew it. I reiterated. “I’ll never ask him!”
All modest and cowardly desires to not be selfish or an annoyance had, rather conveniently, disappeared into thin air.
“I had a notion you were headstrong, but… Please, Your Highness. Your future is on the line here.”
That tone had come back. The one he used to coax an unreasonable princess.
I shook my head willfully. Let him think I’m difficult.
“That’s why! That’s exactly why!”
My future hung on the line. Quite so!
That’s why I can’t back down. You think I have the luxury? the look in my eyes said.
“There’s a risk, but it’s also a chance that won’t come twice!”
Everything began to come together when I put it into words. It felt like the puzzle I hadn’t been able to figure out was finally taking shape.
I flew into a rage due to my father’s arrogant attitude, but when I cooled off and thought about it, a princess essentially had no say in her own marriage.
Having little room to refuse is still better than none, I realized.
I finally found hope in the challenge that had been thrown at me.
“He expects to go crying off to my brother. If I do that, father will forsaken. ‘This is all she’s capable of,’ he’ll think and turn his back on me.”
His disappointment was a foregone conclusion.
“Failing means that I will forever lose all privilege of marrying whomever I so choose.”
I had nothing to base this on except intuition. I trusted it.
If I had been useless, he would’ve married me to some peer, father had said, and I had convinced myself the likelihood of Sir Leonhard being included among those candidates to be low but not out of the question.
Yes, it was. I knew better now.
He was a brave general famous even in other kingdoms. He had good looks, immense popularity, and profound wisdom.
Even if I had no purpose, he did. Would father really let a no-good princess like me have such a capable man?
“I have to try this by myself,” I muttered hoarsely. Tears blurred my vision.
“Princess,” he said in a small, troubled voice.
His uneasy expression made him look younger than usual. If I told him that sort of expression on him as well, I’m sure I’d only embarrass/inconvenience him.
My entire face crunched up, ready to burst into tears.
I still don’t want to give up on you, even if I can’t reach you.
“I have to do this alone, for I can’t even tell the one I love my true feelings.”