It wasn’t real. She knew that.
Nicole had just been standing in front of her. As she felt that strong release of magical power, even the ungifted Camilla could understand it. She had used magic. And with that magic, Nicole was showing Camilla an illusion.
Yet, her heart still ached.
Yet, her feet were still frozen in place.
It was Prince Julian’s voice.
“Camilla, I was wrong. Please forgive me.”
With Prince Julian’s voice, that figure of his drew ever closer to Camilla.
Camilla unintentionally pulled back. Her shoulders had stiffened up and her breath had become short. She had to calm down. Yet, even as she thought that, her mind began to cloud over.
She had always been watching Prince Julian from a distance. The opportunities she had just to talk to him were her joy. Whenever it seemed like he barely remembered Camilla, it had hurt. Yet despite that, she hadn’t given up, using all the power available to her to get near to him and eventually she was happy that he remembered her name.
Then, Liselotte appeared to oppose her and not long after that Prince Julian cast her aside. It had also been Prince Julian who had condemned her to marry Alois, the Lord Montchat.
He and I are the same age. You should have no complaints about his status either. If all you’re after is power, then that man should be more than enough for you.
Camilla despaired when he had told her that, his eyes cold as ice. That was the first time she had felt utterly hopeless. Her mind had completely frozen over back then and she couldn’t say a word.
Yet, still, Camila is…
“Camilla, you are the only one that I truly love, not Liselotte.”
Camilla shouted, holding her head in her hands. After that deep icy cold that had stunned her, the blood rushing to her head gave her back some warmth.
It was thanks to Camilla’s pride that she managed to bring her feet forward and stare directly into his eyes. Even when he had ordered her to marry Alois, she had never turned her gaze away. But, she bit her lip.
“Don’t say anything more! Why are you doing this!?”
Prince Julian stepped forward again. Slowly, yet surely, he came closer, step by step.
As he did, he reached out to Camilla’s cheek. That thin, slightly bony hand. The hand that had never once touched Camilla, reached forward to stroke her cheek.
Just before it did, a strong hand pulled Camilla away. That hand was big and forceful looking, completely different to Prince Julian’s.
“-What are you doing!?”
The man’s voice was cold yet strong. A little while ago, she had heard that same man’s voice, but it had been weak and despondent. The man who that voice belonged to stood right behind Camilla. His body was huge. As he took a step forward as if to shield Camilla, the ground shook under his feet.
– Lord Alois.
Had he just come across this situation after waking up from his stupour in the courtyard? Or perhaps, did he sense some sort of magic abnormality and race towards it? She could see the sweat rolling down the nape of his neck into his collar underneath his tied back hair.
After protecting Camilla behind his back, Alois traced a sign in the air with his finger. His fingertip was charged with slight magical energy. In the air, letters appeared where his finger had moved.
Camilla recognized the movement of his fingertip. It was a spell called Dispel – Sorcery that undid all manner of curses and magic.
As soon as his finger stopped moving, that magical wind pressure returned for just an instant.
And, when the wind died away, Prince Julian had disappeared, leaving only Nicole in his wake.
“Why on earth have you done such a thing, Nicole!?”
“I-I’m sorry! I-I just wanted to help the Mistress somehow!”
“That was NOT for you to do!”
Nicole trembled as Alois bellowed. As Alois glared in sheer anger, that depressed appearance from before was blown away. Looking down on Nicole, he was every bit her Lord and a Duke.
“In the first place, this isn’t the kind of thing you would come up with! Who told you to do this!? Answer me at once!”
“I… I did-…”
Nicole grasped the front of her skirt with bare white knuckles as she quivered. Her red eyes looked at a loss. She opened her mouth to say something more, but no words came out.
Then, she shook her head timidly.
“I did it, it was all my… idea. Please punish me how you see fit. It was my fault alone.”
It was far from Nicole’s usual lively and spirited way of talking. Her voice was almost mechanical, not betraying any emotion.
Nicole was told to return to her room for the time being.
Standing back outside in the courtyard where the residue of magical energy could still be felt in the air, Camilla was left alone with Alois.
The sky was a clear blue, but the wind was blustering. The wind numbed Camilla’s cheeks, but also managed to cool down the emotions swirling around in her chest.
When Alois looked at Camilla, he said that in a low voice.
“It was my fault that you had to experience something like that. I won’t ever let anything like that happen again.”
Camilla answered him bluntly, shaking her head.
“I am alright. I… This is not enough to hurt me.”
She won’t say that she’s distraught, or that her heart felt like it had been broken a second time. She won’t say that she’s hurt.
It has been more than a month since Prince Julian exiled her from the capital. She had gone through regret and anger, then as she plotted her revenge, she thought that she had changed.
“I am not hurt… But…”
But, when the figure of the Prince stood in front of her, Camilla could barely say a word. She was shaken to her core as countless memories flooded through her. Her body had turned to ice and blood had rushed to her head.
That’s how it was.
“But… I am sorry as well.”
Alois didn’t seem to understand. Just why was Camilla apologizing to him?
As she looked at Alois’ sobering face, Camilla felt slightly awkward.
– Just one dish. How pathetic. You’ve got no willpower. How can you be a duke like this?
When Alois had fallen into a slump after Nicole’s act, Camilla had thought some truly awful things about him. She had even said some of them out loud. The truth was, he really hadn’t been acting like a duke.
But, duke aside, he was also a human being. He still had a heart. Camilla was the same. She should have realized that.
“Even if you say that you do not mind, there are things that I should absolutely never do… I was being insensitive.”
As he looked at Camilla acting unusually modest, Alois nodded. He understood what Camilla meant now. He scratched the back of his head, slightly embarrassed.
“I never expected to hear something like that from you… Ah, no, I’m sorry. It was just a little unexpected…”
He smiled wryly as he stopped himself, realizing he was on the verge of being rude himself. As he stayed silent, Camilla could see her reflection in his red eyes that shone an even more vivid shade of red than the Prince’s.
But, when those eyes narrowed as if to laugh, there was just a hint of bitterness that muddied them.
“You really do still love Prince Julian, don’t you?”
That was probably the bluntest and most honest thing that Alois had said since they met.