A yellow butterfly hovered over the blooming flowers and flew away. Warm sunshine fell down on the Duke of Rodson’s garden, where four people were gathered for a tea party. The protagonists were, of course, the royal twins, accompanied by the Marquis’s daughter and the Duke himself.
Phillip Rodson put down his teacup and turned to face Princess Adelai
“Miss, where does Princess Belinda live? I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to meet her on any of my visits to the palace.”
“Why are you so interested in vulgar blood, Phillip?”
Her face hardened immediately. All the more so hearing Phillip say the unpleasant name.
Belinda was known officially as a “dwarf woman who recently returned to the kingdom after recuperating from a grave illness”, but it was an open secret that it was just an excuse to hide her away.
The hidden, unofficial embarrassment of the royal family – that’s all Belinda was.
“Vulgar blood, maybe, but there’s a very confident air to her.”
“Confident? You can’t even tell the difference between confidence and coarseness. You’re mixing up your words. How ignorant.”
“See, you don’t even pay attention. What a sorry addition to the imperial household.”
She said in a stifled voice.
But Philip was lost in thought, smiling. He was reminded of Belinda at the party – standing alone, but head held high, looking relaxed, even avoiding the children’s meanness so easily.
What kind of life could she have? Phillip was inexplicably drawn to her.
It was an ordinary afternoon in the guest palace. Lucy and Belinda were sat on the floor, immersed in a game of chess.
She’d learned to play it recently from Lucy, and although a bit more complicated than the games they usually played, she found it very fun.
“Wait. Lucy. Isn’t it a checkmate? Because of my queen?”
“Well, it’s a tie.”
“Not a checkmate?”
“No, you can’t do that with one queen against a king.”
As Belinda stared at the board trying to figure out the queen’s position, a maid’s voice came from outside the door.
“Princess, you have a visitor. It’s Phillip, Duke of Rodson.”
She’d never heard the name before.
She’d definitely heard of the Duke of Rodson, though. One of the four Dukes of the empire. A founding contributor and at the height of his power among the imperial family.
“Tell him to come in.”
In any case, he is a royal family when it comes to a visit from a duke. It was half a penny, but there was no need to shrink unless it was now a commoner.
Rather, it was Lucy who was nervous about the guest. She might have been the daughter of an earl, but that was no match for a duke. Not to mention, she’d never met Phillip Rodson.
The door opened and a lanky boy came in. He walked very stiffly, with the restraint typical of the high nobility,
Belinda skimmed over him. She’d been expecting an adult since he was a duke, so she was surprised to see a boy two or three years older than her. She was familiar with his face, even though she didn’t know his name til then.
Soft dark brown hair, beautiful sparkly blue eyes. A very handsome boy with a noble air.
Wait, isn’t he one of Adelai’s friends that was laughing at me at that party the other day?
“Are you here to pick a fight with me? Did Adelai send you?”
The tension was obvious in her expression. It was somewhat overwhelming to have to deal with someone like this without Aymon.
“Good afternoon, Princess. My name is Philip Rodson.”
“Yes. Duke Philip Rodson.”
“I couldn’t greet you properly when we first met at the party some time ago. Pleasure to meet you.”
The boy smiled calmly.
Belinda, fiddling around with a chess piece, looked him in the eye and smiled back. She wanted to be straightforward and say she didn’t want to see him, but she couldn’t do that. She wanted to live her life with as little conflict as she could.
Even so, though, her emotions were quite easily visible on her face. Phillip glanced at her silently, in a flurry of thoughts.
Is that it? There’s no way she would welcome me if she thought I was making fun of her at the party…
Belinda was unlike any other person he’d met. She demanded respect, but in a very different way from the snobby aristocrats that usually surrounded him. In any case, she was nothing like the ignorant and vulgar person Adelai described her as.
He decided to get to the point quickly before she could kick him out. He pulled out a small gold box. It was embossed and looked valuable at first glance.
“I came here to give you this.”
“What is this?”
Belinda opened the box.
It was a flower-shaped brooch with tiny pink diamonds wrapping around a huge ruby. It glistened beautifully under the sunlight.
Belinda’s reaction was blunt. It was a rather vulgar response, as Adelai would say, but she didn’t want to give the fake, shallow reaction that the duke had probably expected.
“This is made out of a very large gem that was found at our mine.”
“But why give me this?”
“There was also one made for Princess Adelai…. But come to think of it, there’s more than one princess in the empire, isn’t there?”
So the Duke made this for the princess of the Empire… And so I have one too… Because I’m the daughter of the Emperor…
It felt very… strange.
She was a princess, sure, but she was always treated as lesser by everyone. Always. It was hard to believe she was actually considered one of the two princesses by someone.
She handed the box to Lucy to put away.
Phillip was holding another box, as well – it had neatly stacked glass bottles filled with flower tea.
“I got this as a gift from a foreign merchant. Please make good use of it.”
It was time for her to express her gratitude for the gifts.
Then, suddenly, she heard a snarl outside the window and something leaped in. It was Aymon. Lucy, startled, hurried over and spoke to him in a shrill, nervous voice.
“Candy! You’re back! How was your walk?”
Making a big fuss, she snatched him up and forced him to put a hat on. It was a defensive measure to hide his spirit stone whenever he met someone.
When rumors started spreading that a Shinsu was going back and forth from Belinda’s residence, they decided to start pretending he was her pet cat, Candy.
No matter how young, Belinda was a lady. And Aymon was a beast.
Lucy, who had grown up in the nobility, knew better than anyone that there was a lot of vulgarity hiding behind the elegant face of the nobility that everyone saw. They might be cursing Belinda out behind her back, saying that she was still dirty-blooded even being protected by the Shinsu.. She couldn’t let that happen.
Aymon finally dashed across the room to Belinda after reluctantly agreeing to put on a hat. He didn’t speak, instead simply glaring at Phillip with harsh, threatening eyes.
Belinda put down the box of teas and greeted him. Aymon jumped up onto the table without answering, not taking his eyes off the duke for even a second.
Phillip felt somewhat strange. What he thought was a house cat was staring at him like it would kill him any moment. A chill ran down his neck.It looked like such a cute cat, but it had very sharp eyes. He felt like he was standing in front of a predator, not a pet.
He unwittingly avoided Aymon’s gaze and held out a small letter.
“What is this?”
Belinda opened the envelope and saw a sheet of glossy paper with luxurious embossed writing.
“It’s an invitation to my birthday party.”
Belinda was conflicted by the friendly gesture.
What should I take this for? Maybe it’s a trick, to make fun of me again.
“Belinda, I’d appreciate it if you could co-”
He couldn’t finish the sentence.
Everyone turned their heads at the sudden noise. Aymon straightened his neck. He was holding the open box of tea bottles over the table.
“Aym- Candy, you can’t drop that. It might break.”
Aymon gave a single cute meow, just to live up to the expectations of being a cat.
Phillip coughed awkwardly and continued the conversation.
“It would be a great honor if you ca- AAAAHHHHHH!”
He couldn’t finish his sentence this time either, because Aymon, now standing on the floor, dropkicked the box straight at Phillip’s shin.
The duke’s face went dark red with embarrassment. The blow hurt like crazy, but the worst part was that it was caused by a cat….
But he couldn’t exactly blame it. It was just a pet cat…. Right?
He swallowed the pain and looked up with his best fake smile.
Belinda swatted at Aymon lightly before turning around to apologize.
“I’m so sorry. My cat must be in a bad mood today.”
Aymon pawed at the back of her legs, but she ignored him.
“I’ll think about your invitation.”
“Thank you. Have a good day, Your Highness.”
He bowed and turned around to leave. He caught the cat staring at him again and lowered his gaze. It seemed like it was… laughing? No, that couldn’t be true. It couldn’t have thrown the box out of malice, right…?
“I’ll leave then. Infinite glory to the Empire.”
As soon as Phillip disappeared into the garden, Belinda grabbed Aymon.
“What the hell is wrong with you!?”
His tail was twitching, like he was in a good mood.
God, he doesn’t need to feel this unnecessarily imposing…
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