Absence makes the heart grow fonder, just who was it that first said that?
When the summer break started and I could no longer see the girl that I met every day, I felt like I had lost something deeply important to me. Like an important part of my everyday life had been stripped away.
It made me happy just to lose myself thinking about her, but that only made remembering she wasn’t by my side all the more painful. It was painful. I wanted to see her. I love her… After a while, I finally realized that’s how I felt.
So, just why was that?
Ever since the beginning, I had thought she was a very cute girl.
I had always been interested in her the moment she entered the school. About what she went through to come here, about her incredible strength, and eventually, I found myself worrying about that girl who seemed unbelievably pretty and lively considering everything that happened.
After coming to be her escort, I learned even more about her power, her upright nature, her simple way of thinking and the noble warrior’s heart she possessed, and eventually, I realized I liked those things about her as well.
But, it was only after I noticed just how much happiness seeped out of my life when I lost the opportunity to meet her every day that I realized those feelings were love.
I thought I was exaggerating, that I could easily console myself with thinking that I could meet her again once the holidays were over, but as the days wore on I realized that the thought of spending a full month without seeing her was unbearable.
Once I realized that, there was only one thing I could think of.
I love Miss Finne.
And in the same breath, I realized I had not the skill to extricate myself cleanly from the political marriage destined for my future.
So, my only choice was to bow my head in apology to my uncle and his daughters, and accept my expulsion from the Riefenstahl house. Oh, yes, I would need to inform my parents and brothers in advance as well. Assuming I lost my path to knighthood as well, should I put my sword arm to use as a bouncer, a mercenary or an adventurer? As I thought about my feelings and what I would do with myself in the future all through the summer holidays, I suddenly received news that Finne had been accepted as a daughter of the main family… I didn’t understand at all.
Miss Finne was a descendant of the Riefenstahl house, and should have been the legitimate successor should her father have lived, so my uncle adopted her with the intention of having whoever married her inherit the title of Marquis.
If I wanted to regain my place as the successor to uncle’s position, I was to successfully court Miss Finne.
When I received that information at the same time as the public announcement, I didn’t really understand.
My uncle apologized to me, but I never really had much attachment to the position of the successor, and if the reason was to protect Miss Finne then I would never have any objections.
But… The point where it now seems that I am being told to approach Miss Finne, not for love’s sake, but part of an expectation to lie for the sake of the family… I thought that was regrettable.
“You’re not very honest…”
I do not want to hear that from you, Liselotte.
That’s what I thought straight away, but since Liese would get annoyingly stubborn if I said that, I listened instead.
The summer break was over, and we were three days into the new semester.
‘Why have you not courted my adorable little sister Finne yet?’, were the first words of Liselotte’s interrogation after she called me to the manor where she stayed when attending the academy. It was quite irritating to have Liese, who was perhaps the least honest girl with her feelings in the world, stare at me with such disgusted looking eyes.
I couldn’t hold it in anymore and let out a sigh.
“I’m reluctant to tell her my real thoughts because she might think that it’s just a lie… What if I lose her trust, and she won’t even let me stand by her side as a guard anymore?”
Liese’s curt insult cut straight through me.
As I looked down silently, Liselotte kept speaking disdainfully.
“You should be on your knees in front of her, crying and begging her to love you back. It was Finne who robbed you of your place as successor, after all, surely if you put on a pathetic enough display she will pity you enough to at least give you a chance.”
“That’s why I don’t want to do something like that…”
Well, that was another problem.
Ever since returning from Riefenstahl Castle, Miss Finne seemed like she was worried about me.
It wasn’t just my own pride at stake, I didn’t want to corner her in such a way.
“Use whatever means are at your disposal. Strike down your enemies with force. To truly be a Riefenstahl, you must have at least a modicum of avarice.”
Liselotte said that with a wicked and cold smile.
No, Liese, that’s just your way, not Riefenstahl’s.
In order to stay as His Highness the Crown Prince Siegward’s fiancée, she has done and would do anything to protect that place.
“…Speaking of which, I never would have thought you would accept Miss Finne as your little sister, Liese.”
Earlier in spring, I would have sooner expected Liselotte to instead have had her eliminated. That was part of the reason, being part of Liese’s family, I was worried about the potential unfortunate victim, Finne.
Hearing me say that, Liselotte took a deep breath before she spoke again.
“I admit that, in the past, I may have expressed some jealousy over how well Finne and His Highness Prince Siegward were getting along. But I decided to accept her as a friend when she was a commoner and now she is also a daughter to a Marquis. It is not wrong to say that she could become the biggest threat to me, either”
But then, those eyes of hers that had sunk slightly towards the ground sparked right back up.
“However, I am his fiancée. With everything I’ve been taught, all the effort I’ve made, all the love I feel, I cannot lose. His Highness is also a sincere and intelligent person, so he will make a sound and rational judgement… and… choose…”
Even though her words came across as strong, that single tear that dripped down her face betrayed her anxiety.
“I am not crying.”
“If it’s worrying you so much that you’re going to cry about it, why did you not oppose it?”
Ignoring Liese’s stubborn will, I pointed that out, but she just shook her head.
“I cannot take anything more away from Finne. That girl… For her to be hurt again, go hungry again, suffer sadness again, feel lonely again, and most of all, fear for her life again, I will never allow it.”
Well, we’re in agreement there.
Just as I was reflecting on what a good person she was, deep down, Liese suddenly looked up and glared at me.
“That’s why, Bard, you should get on your knees right away, beg for her love and serve her all your life. With that underwhelming love of yours, you can at least be her shield.”
“Returning here again…?”
“We have returned. Well… Methods of confession aside, my assertion that you love Finne, it wasn’t wrong, was it Bard?”
Liselotte looked at me slightly uneasily.
Although it was for Miss Finne’s sake as well, the only reason I let this conversation keep going was that I am convinced of my feelings.
If I said that I didn’t love Miss Finne here and that I wasn’t convinced to relinquish my position as successor, then there could be strife in the future.
If I didn’t make it clear right now, I’m sure Liese wouldn’t let me leave until she got it from me anyways.
“That’s the truth. It was only after the summer break had begun that I realized but, I truly do love Miss Finne. Your view that I had always been looking her way as well was not wrong either.”
When I finally admitted it, Liese breathed a sigh of relief.
“Of course, that’s right, isn’t it? On that note, Bard, there is something that I have to apologize for as well.”
“I’ve been told that you’ve been seeing Finne off to the staff dormitory at the academy for the past three days now, but she doesn’t currently live there anymore. My apologies.”
As my cousin said that with an unusually full smile, I had a bad feeling.
“She has been carrying her luggage out of the dormitory, having her dinners in the dormitory and saying farewells to the staff and teachers there she was so indebted to, but in the evenings she has been coming back to live here together with me.”
As Liselotte continued to brightly smile as she spoke, I stood up.
“The moving work had been going on until yesterday, but today she came back from the dormitories in the same carriage with me.”
As Liselotte’s words continued to snake into my ear, I was convinced that not only was Miss Finne in this house, but she was nearby… So close nearby that she heard this entire conversation, as I desperately looked around.
“…From tomorrow onwards, please use your house’s carriage to drop her off at this house, if you would.”
With her point made, Liselotte stood up and began to leave the room.
Her line of sight shifted for just an instant.
I threw open the doors of the walk-in closet with conviction. And there was Miss Finne, her face bright red.
Should I detest myself for letting my guard down and not noticing the signs? Should I admire or be angry with Liselotte, who used me as such an effective pawn to rid herself of one of her potential rivals?
I was lost for words, but Liselotte had already left the room, so there was nothing I could do.
Getting down on my hands and knees to beg like she suggested was only going to be a last resort.
For now, I took her hand and quietly lead her to the centre of the room, towards the sofa where Liese was sitting just a moment ago.
Letting her sit down, I lowered myself onto one knee and looked up at her, taking a deep breath.
I don’t know exactly how you’re supposed to express your love.
So, all I could do was just tell her how I honestly felt.
I think Rize-tan quite likes playing matchmaker as well.