“How is this color?”
Slim fingers combed through my hair. I looked up and me the eyes of the beautiful woman standing behind me through the blur-free polished mirror. I could see myself reflected in the silver-rimmed monocle she wore on her right eye.
“I’ve made the color slightly darker than Mr. Belmar’s, but Your Highness’s hair is soft so under the sun it should look about the same.”
In the mirror, my hair had been dyed a little darker brown than Klaus’ own.
In an instant, the face I was so used to seemed like it now belonged to someone else.
Admiring how big my own impression had changed from the hair color alone, I nodded.
“Thank you, Lady Irene.”
“No, it is I who should give thanks. You have my gratitude for helping me with my experiment,” she said with a smile as she cleared away and folded the cloth she was using instead of a styling cape.
As her words might suggest, the dye used to turn my hair dark brown had been an invention of hers.
Of course, dyes similar to henna, indigo and the like existed in this world. However, it took as much as five hours for the color to take. What’s more, once you dyed with them the color doesn’t come off. They weren’t easy to experiment with. They also smelled terribly.
“To remove the color, please take a hot bath. Water won’t wash it off.”
“That’s a relief. I was wondering what I’d do if a wave hit us and I fell into the water,” I said while accepting a jar filled with the dye.
She smiled wryly. “Rather than the color of your hair, the bigger issue would be you falling in. Please stay indoors where you won’t be swept away.”
“I’ll act accordingly…”
I can’t say I was excited at the thought of cooping up inside. I’m sure my thoughts must have shown on my face, because her smile deepened.
When I stood up from the mirror and turned around, Lutz and Theo, who had been silently waiting until now, decided to speak up.
“Hey, you. What’s going on?”
“We heard you were leaving the kingdom, so it’s true?”
Approximately ten minutes ago they barged in with enough force to break down a door, but before they could chew into me their master silenced them with a chilly look. They quietly waited in the corner of the room until we finished, suggesting how well they had been trained.
“It’s true,” I said.
They bombarded me with questions.
“Where? To do what? With who?”
“I have business in Flamme, and I’m going with Klaus.”
Lutz’s eyes opened wide in disbelief. With a fierce look on his face, he shouted as he held on to both of my shoulders. “Alone with that guy?! You’re joking!!”
At point-blank range, my eardrums seemed like they would burst from his loud voice.
“That ‘guy’? Klaus? What’s there to worry about?” I asked, baffled. I barely started before he cut me off.
“Or rather, I want you to tell me why anyone would be worried when a mad dog completely devoted to you is likely to bite anyone who approaches you to death.”
“Lutz, calm down. Sir Belmar won’t harm the princess. On that one point only you can rest assured.”
Theo lightly tapped a few times on Lutz’s hands and removed them from my shoulders. His words sounded supportive, but they were actually quite harsh. That one point only… Meaning nothing else was trustworthy?
“More concerning to me, princess, is that you will only have one escort.”
“It… can’t be helped.”
Theo’s eyes became sharp. “Because it would be too eye catching?”
His expression and voice was hard. Gone was his usual cheerful and pleasant personality.
“To go so far as to dye your hair, this is no official visit. On the other hand, Flamme is too far for a secret jaunt. Exactly what sort of danger are you trying to poke your nose into?”
How startling. Theo was sharp.
Unintentionally, my shoulders trembled a little. The small motion didn’t escape his notice, and the dangerous look in his red eyes increased.
“That’s far enough. Fool apprentices.” A pretty hand cut in between me and Theo. Silently supervising until now, Lady Irene stood protectively in front of me. “Only toddlers are allowed to ask every question that comes to mind. Use your head a little to think and speak for yourself.”
She sighed, looking at them with exasperation.
“The princess may call you friends, and while that may be true, it does not mean you are permitted to do whatever you desire. Her Highness has responsibilities and circumstances that comes with her position. Do you believe she can share everything with you? Cease exaggerating your own importance.”
Theo tried to object, but he swallowed his words. He chewed on his lip in frustration.
Lutz sulked and turned away.
I didn’t want to make them feel like this, but honestly, I was very grateful for Lady Irene’s support. There was no way I could explain everything to them, and I didn’t want to lie to them either.
“I’m sorry, you two.”
“It’s all right. I’ll make sure not to get in much trouble, so please don’t worry.”
“Your words are hardly assuring,” Theo said bitterly.
It’s hard to argue with that, I thought, smiling wryly. I knew how vague my words had been.
Lutz frowned, looking at the ground. “If only we could go also with you.”
He’s grown taller and matured in his looks so much these past few years, yet here he was sulking like a child.
“As wizard apprentices, it won’t be easy for you to leave the kingdom. I promise to come back safely, so please wait for me.”
Standing on tiptoes, I reached out and patted his fine, silk thread-like silver hair.
I feel like I have a tsundere little brother, I thought, but that was my little secret. He’d definitely be angry if he knew.
“Princess, I have an amulet to give you later. Will you take it with you?”
“Ah, me too! I’ll give you one too!”
So existed in this world as well. Probably not like the rectangle ones made out of cloth I was imagining. Either way, I was happy to be in their thoughts, so I should accept them gratefully.
“Thank you,” I said.
They smiled happily.
“By the by, princess… Where is your traveling companion?” Theo asked, as if it had just occurred to him.
“Now that you mention it,” Lutz glanced at the door, “that’s a different guard.”
Like they said, today’s guard was not Klaus but someone else.
“Since we’ll be gone for a while, perhaps he’s taking care of his work. He seems busy.”
I looked away as I reflected on the day I spoke with Klaus.
I’m going on a journey, I want you to come with me, I suddenly said to him and he nodded without question.
I admit, I was a little afraid.
Going on a trip alone with Klaus, who was full of high spirits, I was nothing if not worried.
Won’t someone please make him calm down, I silently cried while remembering his cheerful face.