Afterwards, I was given some time alone with Shade.
The one who forcibly brought out this development was Uncle Narcissus. It seemed Uncle was serious when he asked me to take charge of Shade’s training, as that was how it was explained to Shade. Neither I nor my father remembered agreeing on this matter.
I wonder what was the cause for Uncle’s forceful actions. Was he expecting something from me? Or was he hoping to get Father’s support on this? I can’t discard the possibility that he didn’t think about anything, though.
At any rate, this was a chance for me to ask the questions I had about this complicated situation.
「I’d like you to call me Lycoris. There’s no need to add 『Miss』after all. Would it be alright if I called you Shade?」
「Have you already had dinner?」
「Yes. I apologise for not coming out for dinner」
「It’s fine, you don’t have to worry about things like that. By the way, what did you eat? Did you have the same meal we had for dinner?」
Although internally, my heart was pounding as I asked the question, Shade smoothly replied that he had the same menu for dinner.
I was relieved. It seems, at least for now, his meals haven’t been left out. While it was rude, I was able to hit the nail on the head by asking a slightly blunt question.
「Do you have a small appetite? You seem incredibly thin」
「No. That’s not the case… it’s only that I’m not used to the『good food』provided here」
It wasn’t an unnatural answer. For most people, it’s likely the things they ate from an early age would be what they would consider as delicious.
「I see. Well, even if you get used to the meals here… you’d still yearn for your honored mother’s cooking, right?」
At the mention of his mother, his red eyes seemed to wobble and tremble.
And then those eyes, towards me– towards the girl in front of him who had asked the rude question, sent just a small glare.
「Even if I yearned for it, I can’t go back. After all, it was my mother’s own volition to send me away」
Finally able to take a glance at him after he shared his sentiments, I was overcome by a strange sense of relief. That’s because, while being this small, having a person with complete control of himself as an opponent, somehow, I felt like I wouldn’t stand a chance.
「That was careless of me to say, I’m sorry」
「From tomorrow onwards, I’ll be teaching you a little bit about manners. It would truthfully be better if you learned this from a man, but for the time being, I’ll try to teach you what I can」
「Yes. Thank you very much」
Shade smiled and laughed delightfully.
This one-year younger cousin of mine, the aspect of him that was very innocent seemed unnatural no matter what. Of course, this was because his personality had a gap with the game character Shade; but some might say that my opinion was biased.
That’s why when I saw this kind of smile, I instead ended up thinking that perhaps he used it when he wasn’t being honest.
「Studying about manners is very important. If firmly disciplined, it’s an armor that can be used to protect yourself in the aristocracy. Because it would become your strength.」
「…strength… is it?」(2)
「Yes, that’s right. It’s strength in a broader sense. Did it pique your interest?」
Shade merely tilted his head, but I think it got a little of his attention. Even if this role of mine as a teacher was only for a short time, I wanted my student to have the desire to learn.
「Then, let’s continue tomorrow」
For boys of this age, it might be a bit embarrassing to have this exchange. But greetings are important. From tomorrow onwards, I will have to thoroughly train him on it.
When I realized it, I completely became serious in taking up my role.
After that awkward farewell, I parted with Shade and began walking towards the guest room.
Because I had visited this place countless times since I was still small, there was no need for someone to guide me there.
For the first time, I thought about Shade.
I wanted to know his situation and his thoughts. For example, was Aunt really maltreating him? What were his thoughts about Uncle and Crinum? If I was able to obtained Shade’s trust, I wonder whether he would talk to me about them. Or, should it be with an adult he could trust– should I leave it to Father, then?
Uncle adores Shade, and Aunt most likely neglects him, at worse, he’s probably detested. In Crinum’s case, I wonder what she thinks of him?
When she first learned about his existence, she must have been shocked. She probably despised her own father’s actions. And she might have even been angry about it. But, at present, I think she is taking care of Shade. Crinum is a nice girl.
My thoughts flew to the time I was playing with Crinum in this mansion.
When I was young, I was holed up inside my room and was branded as a child that was only into books and nothing else; but, when father took me to come to this mansion, I didn’t have the free time to read those books. That’s because I was too busy playing with my gentle cousin who was close to my age.
Since Aunt’s educational policy did not allow us to play outside, the young Crinum and I entertained ourselves by exploring every nook and cranny of the house, with dolls in one hand. As small children, the usually never visited closet or storage room was a world of unknown adventure to us; the strange appearance of the attic was what we were especially pleased with.
Taking along our dolls to the attic, we chose to play pretend in the house. The little bit of sweets we hid in our pockets were all gathered there. I wonder if that attic still remains even now
Suddenly wanting to talk with Crinum, I tried to turn back.
So there was no way with such a timing, could I have expected that I would be accosted by the person herself.
I likely jumped in surprised. Crinum’s thin body stood leaning on the wall, exactly in between the corridor’s lamps and lights.
The corridor’s lamps were in equal intervals; the parts that were bright and the parts that were dark were intensely different. Naturally, since I only concentrated on the parts that my eyes could see, it was only when I was this close that I noticed the other person.
「S-sorry. I was lost in my thoughts while walking. For me to do such a thing, my attentiveness was half-hearted. What’s wrong? Were you waiting for me?」
Crinum didn’t answer my question.
When I tried to approach Crinum, she backed away several steps from me.
「Lycoris, I have a favor to ask from you, so I was waiting for you」
Finally, Crinum gave me an answer and I was relieved, her words rousing me.
「What is it? Tell me whatever it is」
I answered, puffing with pride. For example, if she wanted to speak out against Uncle, I’d happily do a suicidal attack on Uncle’s room.
However, Crinum’s words were different from what I had expected.
「Please, to that child– to Shade, don’t get too close… I’m begging you」(1)
Facing down as she said it, I could not see her facial expression under the cover of the darkness.
「Crinum? What do you…」
My question was drowned out, as she repeated「Please」once again.
「That’s… is it by any chance, because Aunt doesn’t want anyone to see that Shade is being maltreated, is it like that?」
Mentioning the likeliest possibility that I’d realized, Crinum hanged her head in shame.
「You knew about it then. What Mother thinks of that child? Is the Duke also aware of this? Did you guys… come to this house for the sake of helping that child out?」
Suddenly lifting up her head, her expression was brimming with hostility aimed towards me. I was shocked about various things, and yet confused.
「No… I’d say it was only me who had thought of it. Most likely, Father has yet to notice it, and even if he did, if there was any way to settle it in this house, then he should have already gone and tried thinking of it」
「I see… that’s good. Please, Lycoris. Don’t tell the Duke that Mother is treating that child badly」
「That’s… If you’re the one that asks this of me, then I would grant the request, but… why? If you ask Father, then wouldn’t he be able to help Shade out? At this rate, I don’t think that Aunt will be okay at all. And if you left it to Father, then I doubt he would ever cause Aunt harm blindly. Let’s consider the best option for all of you」
Crinum kept silent. After a long, long time, she finally opened her mouth.
「You know, Lycoris. The first time I met that child, I thought what a beautiful child he was」
The vigorously unstoppable torrent of words that Crinum spoke out about, was not about Aunt.
「But at the critical point of introduction, Father introduced me as that child’s older sister, and he said all of a sudden:『Crinum, if you didn’t have freckles, you would have looked a little similar to Shade』. I… was so ashamed. Somehow, I felt I couldn’t compare with that child’s face and I thought there was no way I could address myself as such. That child wasn’t just beautiful, he was also smart. At the start, he had a strange accent, but soon after, he began mimicking people’s pronunciations, and his way of talking became beautiful as well. When he first hears the words, most likely he hears the person’s pronunciations even before it leaves their mouths. Repeating those, it’s like he never had an accent when he talked. Isn’t that amazing? That child, on his own, spoke to me. He said that my freckles will vanish when I became an adult so it was okay, and that I… was really beautiful. But, as expected, standing before that child, I was perpetually terrified. But you know, a turning point came. For some time now, Father had wanted to obtain a particular rose, and he went far away for it. When Father left the house, Mother locked up that child. Telling us that we absolutely cannot bring out any food or water to him. I thought, that was something that cannot happen; so that night, I secretly came and brought some food and water to that child. That was the first time. That child spoke to me on his own. That child needed me. I…」(3)
Speaking in one breath until that point, Crinum seemed to return to me.
When Crinum was engrossed with a book, she would discuss the hero or heroine’s sentiments, and became talkative. Right now, she stared dreamily like she did at those times.
However, I wonder whether she realizes it. That is, the kinds of things that are coming out of her own mouth.
From her hands and also her pale lips, it was evident she was quivering, even in the dark. However, her words did not stop.
「Lycoris, you’ve really become beautiful. And even long ago, you’ve always been smarter than I was. I… absolutely don’t want you to get close to that child!」
Saying it over her shoulder with a strained-sounding voice, she ran away.
(1) She actually says “please” twice in this sentence. First, as どうか and then as お願い. The latter sounds more desperate.
(2) Initially he was saying, “Strength?” But quickly added ですか, which is a polite way of asking. Scary kid.
(3) When Lycoris said it was a torrent, it really was… when Crinum was speaking, there were no spaces/different paragraph. It just continued on. However, for the sake of my editor’s sanity, she asked me to add spaced to make it easier to read.
edited it back to the original, because I was told by a certain someone to make the readers feel pain…