As Soricks waved and shone me a bright smile, I smiled and nodded. Then, in a blink of an eye, he was right in front of me. I quickly blinked my eyes before staring at the face resting on my desk.
I knew that templars who specialise in combat moved in ways that normal people could not fathom but this was surprising.
His eyes that were as bright as green leaves shone as bright as his radiant smile akin to the summer sun.
“Have you been well?”
“Yes, Sir Soricks.”
“Oh, come on. Speak comfortably.”
A bitter feeling arose within me whenever I saw Soricks. A year ago, because of me, his tongue had slipped and he was captured by Castor. The whole situation had been terrible.
“Sir Granius has told me to treat you well, Sir Soricks.”
“I heard that there was no templar here as capable as you.”
Since he was someone who had been captured because of me, I had wanted to tell him of my identity. But I could not.
“Hahaha, how did the Aediles know that I’m rich?”
“She must be a very beautiful person. Just being her knight is enough for me.”
I would have told him right away if he had not mentioned this. But I knew myself well. In terms of appearance, I looked nothing like my mother who was proclaimed to be the most beautiful in the Empire. I even had this strange scar on my cheek. I did not want to disappoint him when he was already so looking forward to seeing me.
‘I don’t think I’m that bad but…’
Compared to Auresia, I was a disappointment. I would be 17 in a month and I was only so conscious of this because my coming-of-age ceremony was just around the corner. I thought I could protect his fantasies of me for just a while longer.
This was the reason why Soricks, Meta and the other patrol troops knew me as a daughter of an Administrative Official of an intermediate rank.
It was enough for them to find out that I was a lot older than I looked.
“All the troops are looking forward to the day Pipio Ashley graces us with her presence in the training grounds.”
“Ah. Really? I’m glad they liked me.”
“When are you coming around to visit again?”
In short, they thought I was the daughter of a fallen aristocrat and that I was here to work hard and raise the social standing of my family through Granius’ support. That was all they knew of my situation.
“It’s not just because of the good view. It feels like they would rather serve you than the Goddess of Love? They keep talking about how fast you’re growing, Ashley. How sad would they be when you get married in the future!”
He waved his hands around dramatically.
“Perhaps, the man whom our little bird Ashley falls in love with in the future will have to go through at least 40 screenings before receiving their approval.”
“Well, gosh. That’s both burdensome and heartwarming to hear.”
Ceres, the troop that acted like wild beasts. Since they had first seen me, I had visited their grounds for the past two years and they were still as innocent as when I first saw them though their appearance might say otherwise.
“M-m-m-my lady held my hand. Ack!”
“Move, where are you dripping those dirty tears of yours? Miss, would you like some candy?”
Their adoration for me never changed like a pine tree and they always took care of me. When they heard that the Aediles was taking a young child (though I was not actually a child) under his wing, they became glass-eyed as if they were watching a sad movie.
“O-our small cute Pipio, we want you to be happy.”
The affection and popularity I received from being at the training grounds made me feel as if I was some popular idol.
When I returned from work, Lord Ray had been perturbed by the candy I had received from unknown men.
‘How could they like me so much?’
Although they were templars who were living far from their family and had given up on marriage, I could not understand them. My uncles from my precious life were not like this either.
Well, perhaps it was because I did not like children but I could not understand where they were coming from.
In a month, I would completely become an adult and after I pass my exam at the end of this year, I would be holding my coming-of-age ceremony.
‘Then they’ll find out who I am right?’
My tired conscience was poking me. Because I cherished the two years of memories of them being kind to me.
On the day my coming-of-age ceremony arrives and all the nobles and people from the Imperial Palace sees my face, I would only be able to feel sorry.
“Aediles, can I bring Pipio Ashley to the Ceres training camp?”
“Where are you taking the child that’s supposed to study?”
Granius snorted before smirking.
“What’s there to see in that dirty, dusty place filled with weeds?”
“I mean! Ceres would be disappointed to hear you say this when they’re working so hard!”
“Let them be disappointed.”
Eventually, Soricks did not get permission to let me leave and was kicked out of the office along with Meta.
His lingering gaze looked like that of a sad puppy being deprived of its bones till the end when he left the office. Afterwards, the Templar of Thievery and Deception, Metaus, bowed his head.
“Let us meet again, Pipio Ashley. Lord Chosone is waiting for you.”
Pipio, it meant small bird. And it was what people used to address small ladies affectionately.
The disturbance that the two had brought subsided and the bustling air they had stirred had already calmed into a silent room.
I suddenly realised.
‘I’m reaching half the age I reached in my previous life.’
And once I become an adult, Rusbella would arrive.
In the quiet office, I stared at the settling dust.
I liked this peaceful air.
How could I not? Ever since Granius took me under his wing, Castor had stopped looking for me.
I loved it when he was not bothering me.
Of course, the fear that he would come look for me again and the anxiety that would overcome me without warning at times still tightened my throat but the peace was lovely. Seeing me smile so openly, Granius spoke.
“You’re in a good mood.”
“Is that so?”
I turned my body around. He pointed his chin towards me as he stared.
“As a Princess, do you like this place?”
It was a voice filled with affection.
“That’s a relief. Have you had lunch?”
“I’m not that hungry.”
A few minutes ago, a few troops from Ceres had taken Penne away for his lunch break. I looked at Granius and was about to ask whether he was going to have lunch but I just stopped myself.
“Don’t skip meals. Soricks, Penne and the lot have been asking me to feed Pipio Ashley a balanced diet since you seem smaller than peers your age. There is no such thing as too much.”
He was right. I was pretty big in my previous life. I placed my pen down and grabbed my chin as I lost myself in my thoughts.
Regardless of gender, people in the Empire boasted large bodies and tall heights. This easily surprised people from other countries.
‘In <The Light of Rusbella>, Rubella too could have been a tall and slim beauty.’
Would she not be a good match for anyone here?
Even after I become an adult, I would not be able to grow any further from my current size. Though I knew I was small, I have been recently told that I was even smaller than the average. Dane, who had been of similar size with me, had also grown bigger. Though the difference was about only the size of a palm. The growth had not been consistent which could have been due to stress but he had grown exponentially for the past two years.
Anyway, the news must have leaked a little.
“It’s alright. I don’t have to eat.”
When I noticed Granius approaching, I quickly shook my head.
I tried to smile to reassure him. Seeing him so concerned, I wanted to just listen to him and eat but it was going to be difficult today. Sorry. I actually did want to eat but I could not eat here today.
[Year 824, on the 17th day of the Month of Habermia,
… There was poison in my meal.]
If I ate I would die.
My blank diary was filled with words again.
The diary entries had become more long winded with more things added in them compared to when they first appeared. To point out something noteworthy, Castor also no longer appeared in the writings.
And they would predict my death in one or two day’s time now instead of the initial seven.
For example, if [The 10th day of the month of Habermia, death by falling from tall heights.] was written in my diary, as long as I avoided climbing the stairs the entire day, the page would change and the diary would then move on to the next day. I avoided the stairs and was hit by a falling pot and died! That was something that never happened.
And if I managed to completely avoid death, a new entry would begin. Thus, my death would only lead me to realise fragments of the future. For the last two years of my life, I had been surviving through ordinary means of death and ridiculous ways to die, some that had the potential of appearing in those crime podcasts. (1)
Then, I turned 15. The diary began predicting my deaths again.
I had many things to say about this but I would like to mention one particular drawback about these monotonous deaths.
After I escaped from Castor, other people I had never met before especially those well versed in assassination began to look for me. When I saw the writings at first, I thought I had been mistaken and was left speechless.
“Assassination? I’m going to be assassinated? Why me?”
I remembered having a hard time wrapping my mind around it. They hired a professional to kill the Princess who was only breathing. Who would get what benefit from this? I thought about it for a long time but I still could not come to an answer.
There would not be any benefit killing me, right?
From movies, I knew that contracted assassination costed money. Even Lord Ray said that it would take a lot of money to deal with people from the shadows so it was no different here.
Also, no matter how weak I was, this was the Palace. To be able to hire people to infiltrate such a place, would a regular commoner be able to afford it considering their living expenses? Of course not. It would cost money to send smart men to such a place. A lot of money at that. I suddenly thought of Granius.
Could it be that news that Granius was protecting me had already spread?
The mere thought was giving me goosebumps.
I sent Granius who said he was going to have lunch off. He looked uncomfortable seeing me skip meals until the end and left the office with a sigh. Perhaps the reason why he was eating out so frequently these days was because he had pledged allegiance to the 2nd Prince.
It had been two years since he had decided to break away from his long standing neutrality to stand with the second prince. At first glance, the addition of the 4th Administration Office did not seem to cause that big of a ripple in the 2nd Prince’s large sphere of influence. And yet, they were all on guard.
Well, he did say that he was once Castor’s ‘teacher’.
“He might have been neutral but in the 2nd Prince’s eyes, he had always been on Castor’s side.”
It was natural for him to be suspicious of his actions. He could think that he was a spy. I had yet to see even the hair strands of the 2nd Prince. However, I doubt that would be the case, considering how he was described to be extremely careful in the novel.
“Could it be because of me?”
(1): Okay she said variety shows but that doesn’t resonate as well if you’re not from eastern asia so i used this instead.