In the end, I canceled my plans with Master Julius and Georg. I couldn’t go out with my eyes all red and puffy. One look and anyone could tell I had been crying. Sir Leonhard conjured a wet towel from somewhere, and I placed it over my eyes as I quietly returned to the palace.
That very same night.
“What a surprise,” said the man reclined on the luxurious sofa. The hand that had been turning the pages of the document stopped moving. His doll-like face was, contrary to his words, as expressionless as ever. After scrutinizing me from head to toe, his attention reverted to his documents. “I thought you would avoid my presence for a while. My expectations are off.”
His eyes followed the words on the paper, a dry sound coming from the pages with each flip.
As someone who spent her previous life in a country where emphasis on reading the situation is important, I’d like nothing more than to turn on my heels and say, I’ll come another day! But that would be an idle practice in wasting time, of which what little remained was limited. I convinced myself it would only take a few minutes and straightened my back.
“I humbly request a favor, father.”
The moment I said that, his finger stopped turning the pages.
“A request?” he said in a chilly voice.
Nothing in his expression was different, except for the instant change in his demeanor. It made my hair stand on end, and honestly, I was scared.
“You have a ‘request’ for me?”
What does a little girl who has yet to show any results intend to ask for? I sensed a fearsome voice say.
I’m not paranoid, but I felt like I was reading him quite on point.
I wanted to run away. I may want that, but it wasn’t going to happen. It would solve nothing, and I’m sorry, but I had no intention of do this all over again.
I forced the cramped muscles in my face to smile.
I even nodded with a dash of cheek. He gave me a pointed stare, and I almost faltered but did not look away from his light blue eyes. After a little staring contest, he looked down and sighed. With a careless hand, he tossed aside the documents and they slid on the marble table. It took me a couple of seconds to realize that the finger he was pointing at the opposite end was telling me to sit.
The champagne-colored sofa was extremely comfortable to sit on. I enjoyed how it wasn’t too soft, unlike the one I had in my room. Immediately, I went to the heart of the question.
“Father, the other day you said you would give me a bird.”
“Ahh, so I did.”
“In exchange for the return of that bird, I would like to ask for a level of freedom in movement.”
One of his eyebrows went up.
“Do you mean to say, you intend to use something you haven’t even received yet as a bargaining chip?”
Yeah, the bird hasn’t flown into my hands yet, but I couldn’t write him a rain check, so what choice did I have?
“Do you not have some regret, parting with it before you even see it?” he asked.
I obediently nodded in response.
I can’t imagine someone like myself in control of the birds that fly around the world acting as father’s eyes.
No matter how beautiful the feathers of the bird, no matter how excellent the spy, I didn’t have it in me to put them to the test. Instead of being given to someone who couldn’t appreciate its worth, it would be happier at father’s side.
I honestly told him what I felt. “I deem the bird is of use to you, father. I do not believe I am currently up to the task.” His eyes widened slightly.
Chin rested on his hand, elbow propped on the armrest, he crossed his long legs. Even languid movements turned into an art form, but I had no heart to be entranced, though I did sit up straighter when he gave me an appraising look, as if he had misjudged me.
“I see,” he said.
That’s it? I wondered, dumbfounded. I was ready for him to mockingly ask if I had chickened out, so his response was rather anticlimactic.
“Are you not disappointed?” I asked him.
“Disappointment only happens when there’s expectation.”
“Is that so!” My hands clenched into fists and I held myself back.
“It was a joke,” he deadpanned.
The matter-of-fact way he said it made my desire to kill skyrocket.
It wasn’t funny at all, I wanted to say. I managed to refrain from responding, though it was a difficult battle.
“Even those at the top have times when they are undeserving of, and yet must be ready to manage, a great power. Recklessness and courage are not the same. There is no reason for a person who knows their limits and decides to take the long way around to be ridiculed.”
What a difficult speech, but could I simply interpret it as him saying, “Do what you like”?
Are you raising me? Are you testing me? His thoughts were unknown to me, but I think I got the picture.
“We now return to the bird. Does it benefit me to grant you freedom to come and go at will?”
His words were as sharp as ever. Though I’ve become used to feeling like I’ve had my heart gouged out, he was still terrifying.
It would probably wiser to rely on someone else rather than doing it myself. That, right there, was the “bird” I just let go of.
But would it really be better to do nothing, leaving it all to someone else?
To depend on someone is completely different from letting them handle everything.
“Father, I am different from you. I cannot make a decision solely based on what is reported.”
I’m inexperienced. If I can’t observe something myself, I have a hard time believing in it. It takes time for me to get to the answer, even if I already know it will happen. Like that entire wizard abduction mess.
I can’t craftily make others do whatever I tell them while I sit pretty in the palace.
“Nothing will happen if I don’t dirty my own hands. What I have been lacking all along was, probably, the resolve.”
Even if he didn’t tell me, the only path available to me had already been decided. There was a future I wanted to prevent, and I will spare no effort in doing so. Nevertheless, the mountain of a task in front of me was dizzying. Now that I’ve found the start of it, the steep path made my knees want to buckle in fear.
I won’t even think about asking someone to push me forward, but I’m sure a part of me wanted to. In the corner of my mind, I was crying for someone to help, just like the time I messed up and Lutz and Theo were taken. It wasn’t much, but a small part of me wanted to be irresponsible and take the easy way out.
The task father gave me couldn’t have possibly been done out of duty as a parent. If I failed, it would be my end and he’d wash his hands of me. I won’t pretend it’s tough love, but I was grateful for one thing.
I thanked him for making clear to me a crafty side of myself I wasn’t even aware of.
If he hadn’t put the spark in me, I would have continued my half-hearted effort.
And when I failed as a result, with many lives lost, would I still have the nerve to say I did all I could?
While I wait fearfully for the destruction of the world, will I turn to the Priestess to save us all?
No, thank you.
“Can you take all responsibility for your decision, no matter the results?”
Expression restrained, I nodded. “Yes.”
My honest hands and voice shook, but I hoped he would miss it. I realized I had no idea what was going to happen from now on. I might get sick. I might die. A little girl who has lived a safe and sheltered life isn’t ready for something like that. But if I want to be responsible for myself, I must learn to not burden someone else with the responsibility for my actions. Still better than the alternative.
“You have been full of nothing but the unexpected.”
Father sighed once and made no effort to hide his amazement. Looking at him, I couldn’t control my own bitter smile.
“I decided to strive for my own happiness.”
His voice, as he responded, was unexpectedly gentle.