Belinda put the box of tea back onto the table and sighed. One day she would understand this unruly Shinsu’s behavior. Maybe he was just in a bad mood.
Lucy brought in a plate of cookies and pushed them in front of Aymon. Paying no attention to them, he kept rolling around a glass bottle of tea.
「This was a gift, huh?」
“Aymon, it’s a tea made of rare dried flowers. It’s really expensive.”
「What? That’s ridiculous. Even the flowers from the flower bed outside are prettier than this.」
He pushed down on it with his front paw. The thick glass bottle, intact even after falling on the floor, shattered like cheap candy. It was an amazing feat, but instead of being surprised, Belinda ran over to him with a concerned face.
“Aymon! Is your paw all right? Are you hurt?”
She was much more worried about his paws than the bottle. She couldn’t let him hurt his cute little feet.
He lifted up his paws for her to examine.
Aymon started to pounce on Belinda with questions while she had his front paws in hand and was looking through them.
「What the hell was he here for? Why’d he give you that invitation? And the flower teas?」
Instead of answering, Belinda moved her lips slightly.
She was caught off guard by the stream of questions and didn’t even know what to answer first.
Lucy answered, smiling.
“Aymon, I think you’ll have to ask her one by one if you want an answer.”
That didn’t calm him down.
「Is it common for humans to invite people to their birthday parties?」
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s just to be polite, since I’m a princess?”
「And why would he give you all these expensive teas as a gift!?」
“It’s a polite thing to do when you visit someone…?”
She couldn’t exactly take out the brooch now – she was afraid it wouldn’t last long in Aymon’s hands if he found out about it.
「What! What’s wrong with him?? Just coming around to see you like that??」
Is he reading my mind right now?
She shook her head. She was more worried about Aymon rather than herself – could the Duke be trying to make fun of her again with Adelai, or is it really just kindness?
Aymon growled and snapped back roughly.
「How could you not know that!?」
As he hit the table with his paw, the ivory chess horse that Belinda had left there flew up and landed on the floor. He may have been violent at the chess piece, but somehow he managed to look cute even while acting like a gangster. It was one of the many positives of natural cute charm.
Belinda stared at his angry expression blankly, then approached him and stretched her arms out. He jumped into them unknowingly even though he was angry. It was really an instinct for him, so to speak. It wasn’t until he was snuggled up in her arms that he rolled his pretty eyes as if the situation was a disaster.
Weird. Why am I in Belinda’s arms even when I’m angry? Damn habit!
How the tables turned – a great Shinsu leopard acting like a human girl’s pet cat. Without even realizing, Aymon started wagging his tail.
I can’t believe you’ve forgotten about the anger just like that! I don’t even want to leave here. Why am I leaning my head against a human girl?? This is a disgrace…
Belinda smiled and stroked Aymon’s smooth fur. The nervous little leopard’s anger melted away at her touch.
“Aymon, calm down. Why are you so angry all of sudden?”
He sighed and rubbed his nose against her chest.
「I know. Why am I angry?」
“I don’t know.”
Aymon, lost in thought for a moment, looked up at Belinda.
「Are you going to the party?」
“I’ll think about it. You know I’m a princess anyway, so it might be rude for me not to go.”
Even though she said that to Aymon, she thought it would be better not to go – she still remembered the last time very clearly. If Adelai and her friends ignored her by speaking ancient languages again, she’d be very hurt.
Belinda had heard somewhere that ancient languages were a symbol of the nobility, so nobles and royals were taught to speak them only by oral tradition. She couldn’t exactly ask the Emperor or the Empress or her half-siblings to teach her… So she’d have to accept that she could never learn them.
She couldn’t avoid them forever though.
She felt bitter. What could she possibly do in the future so she wouldn’t be ignored anymore?
As if reading her mind, Aymon patted her.
「Do you want to learn the ancient languages?」
Belinda was surprised.
Can he read my mind because he’s a Shinsu?
It was clear that he was being so considerate because of the time he followed her to a party and saw her be excluded by the others speaking an ancient language.
Still, ancient languages were not easy to learn at all.
“I want to, but I can’t. I don’t even have a book.”
「I’ll teach you.」
“Aymon, you know the ancient languages?”
She asked, eyes wide open.
He lifted his chin and replied with a pompous expression.
「Of course I can. I’m a great leopard of the Shinsu clan who’ve been of noble blood since ancient times.」
“Oh my God! Yes! Yes! Great! Thank you!”
She squeezed him tightly.
Aymon was surprised but quickly gave in to the shower of affection.
The maid at Belinda’s palace was soon busy with fetching a pen and paper, as per Aymon’s request. She came back with a pot of ink, a pretty feather pen and a stack of fine paper.
Aymon patted the pile of paper with his front paws as the feather pen was placed on the table.
Belinda smiled cheerfully at the sight.
Can you hold a pen with those cute front paws?
She imagined Aymon writing with the feather pen in his mouth.
Just imagining it was cute. If he got ink on his paws, it would leave little prints all over the paper…
Oh, my. So cute. So cute.
She really wanted to see the baby leopard’s footprints strewn across the paper, but she was also imagining him sitting gracefully, quill pen held firmly in his front paw.
I can’t wait to see it.
Cute and lovely, but able to bite…
Things went a little differently than Belinda expected.
The breeze lifted up the thin curtains.
The leopard jumped off the table, but human feet landed on the rug.
Belinda and Lucy stared dreamily at the beautiful boy who stood before them. It was Aymon, who was a cute leopard cub until just now.
Aymon slowly grasped the white paper and looked at it with a still face.
The boy’s lower lashes gracefully caught the sun. Belinda gazed at his pretty lips. Strangely enough, looking at him made her heart flutter.
Aymon picked up a sheet of paper.
“Come on, Breedee. Now you can make me do anything you want.”
He whispered sweetly.
Belinda gulped. At this pace, she was going to forget even the scraps of ancient language that she knew.
A soft wind flowed in as they sat down at the table. Then, suddenly, Mazetto burst in the window.
“Wow! Aymon! Handsome! Cool! Pretty!”
“Why are you so handsome? Hm? Hm? I like the type of person that looks good in all their forms!”
He chirped wildly, flying around before finally landing on Aymon’s hand.
“Can’t you just stay human? Please?”
Aymon slightly squeezed the bird between his fingers, annoyed.
“Go away. I’m studying with Breedee now.”
When Mazetto didn’t move, he tightened his grip. The little creature screamed.
“I’m sorry! Don’t eat me! Help!!!”
Aymon looked down at him with pity before hurling him out the window. Mazetto’s distant cry rang in the air.
He picked the pen back up. Belinda swallowed nervously.
Why am I this nervous? Is it just because he’s handsome?
“Aymon. Why’d you suddenly turn into a human? You’re always a leopard usually.”
“Would you prefer if I switched back?”
Aymon muttered, bored. At least Mazetto loved it.
“No, not that.”
It’s not that. She was just strangely embarrassed about it. But she didn’t say that out loud.
It was the same Aymon, leopard or boy, but why was it suddenly so hard to look him in the eyes?
Every time he tilted his head to look at her, every time his pretty fingers touched the pen, her heart skipped a beat.
“I can’t write with leopard paws.
She answered vaguely. Aymon, paying little attention to her reaction, dipped the quill into the ink and began to write curly letters on the paper – ancient language. Even though ancient script was lost, the language could still be written with modern letters.
“Let’s not think about grammar for now and just memorize simple words first.”
“Here. This is ‘teacup’. This is ‘plate’. This is ‘knife’. And the last one is ‘fork’.”
Aymon pointed to the words on the paper as he explained. Belinda smiled faintly.
What should I do… I’m too nervous…
“We should start with something practical, since you’re going to be using ancient language at tea parties.”
Belinda silently bit her lips.
“You can’t what?”
“I can’t read.”
She revealed her embarrassing secret quickly. She’d only ever lived as a commoner with no money in the back alleys… When one’s struggling to survive, learning to read is not exactly a top priority.
“I’m sorry I’m this ignorant.”
Aymon, looking at her contemplatively, shook his head.
“It’s just letters. You can learn it, step by step.”
She lowered her head in despair.
Aymon smiled softly and stroked her cheek.
“It’s all right.”
Belinda stiffened up. It was just a small touch, but her whole body reacted instantly.