6 – 5
Camilla’s parents were, by all accounts, good people.
They were well educated and came from a good lineage. They were crafty, but not malicious, and truly believed in human kindness. Even if they admitted that there was evil in the world, they never believed that it would truly point its wicked barbs at them. So long as they saw no evil, heard no evil or spoke no evil, then evil would not visit itself upon them.
The running of Count Storm’s fief, in the southestern corner of the Kingdom, was left to his retainers. Taking up residence in the capital, the shipping businesses that he had started as a hobby had eventually turned into a thriving asset for the family. He was well liked by the people around him because of his wealth of kindness and, alongside his healthy and astute wife, he had deep relationships with others in high society. Because of the scandal that emerged surrounding their only daughter, the other noble families were sympathetic to the Count and his wife. Helped by those kind nobles, they managed to survive the year without falling into hardship.
They never even felt the anguish of losing their daughter. Thanks to the adorable girl that came to take Camilla’s place.
Good things come to good people. Damnation shall always befall those who beget it.
Swindlers were low, but to be a common fool sucked in by their tricks was to be even lower. Because of that, they were adamant that they would never be deceived – those were the kind of people they were.
“Camilla, you idiot! Why the hell did you come back!?”
Camilla’s old bedroom had been given to Therese now, so she had been told to stay in one of the guest rooms.
As soon as she entered that room, Camilla was buffeted by that angry shout.
You could be forgiven for not believing that this was a scarcely used guest room. The bed sheets were brand new, there were fresh flowers on the windowsill and there wasn’t a speck of dust to be seen. Camilla felt a wave of nostalgia as she saw the racks of clothes and her favourite chair, looking just like they had the day she had left the capital.
“Did you seriously have no idea what was going to happen!? You shouldn’t have ever returned!!”
But, despite the shouts, that voice made Camilla feel relieved.
Standing opposite her in the room, her face scrunched up in an angry frown, was Camilla’s bad mannered maid. She had taught Camilla how to cook and sneak out to go to the orphanage together with her, and when she was to be exiled from the capital, she had begged to be allowed to go with her. She was the closest thing Camilla ever had to a sister, perhaps.
As soon as she called out her name, Diana sprinted towards her. Without giving Camilla a moment to react, she drew her into a strong hug.
“You know, you really are stupid! You should have just laid low back in the swamps! You should have known this was all a trap!”
Wrapping her arms around Diana’s back, Camilla spoke softly. That tender and warm hug Diana gave her made her want to cry. But, because of the curse ingrained into her by her parents, she bit her lip and held back the tears.
Shutting her eyes tight, Camilla breathed out. She couldn’t cry. No matter what happens from now on, she wouldn’t have any regrets. She had already come to terms with that.
“I knew, but I still came back.”
“…I guess you still can’t help but be a fool sometimes?”
Her face streaked with tears, Diana sighed in exasperation.
“Mohnton was… it was right for you in the end, wasn’t it? It was right…”
Diana did her best to smile through her tears as she stroked Camilla’s hair. As her gentle hand passed over her ear, it tickled. Just a little bit.
After unpacking her luggage and changing out of her travelling dress, Diana began to comb and braid Camilla’s hair like she used to. Her skilled hands didn’t pull at a single knot or leave a single tangle in Camilla’s hair. It was a big difference to Nicole, who she always ended up snapping at.
– Nicole, are you alright…?
Despite that, she still missed that clumsy maid of hers. Realizing how downcast she must have suddenly looked, Camilla raised her face quickly.
When she raised her head, she saw the view outside the window. The sky was still bright outside, lighting up the sprawling cityscape. The town was awash in flowers, as sure a sign as any that Liselotte and Julian were soon to be wed.
“You’re being used to boost Prince Julian’s popularity.”
Diana spoke in a voice barely louder than a whisper as she ran the comb gently through Camilla’s hair.
She felt a slight throb in her chest when she heard Prince Julian’s name. Even if she had decided to give up on him, he was still the person that she had loved for more than half her life. She had loved him with everything she had, but he had never returned those feelings of hers, and now he actively sought to cast her down.
“That’s why I told you to stop going after him. I always thought he was a snake of a man. I never thought you could be happy with someone like that.”
Camilla bit her lip at her words, but Diana didn’t care. She was the same now as she had been for a long time, never caring to bite her tongue for the sake of others. A bad habit that had well and truly rubbed off on Camilla.
“Hey, about the current situation in the capital, have you heard about it? They say that His Majesty has fallen sick, and they say a war of succession might be brewing.”
“…War of succession?”
Camilla frowned at those words, since she hadn’t heard anything like that at all.
The heir apparent to the throne should have been set in stone a long time ago. Prince Eckhart was the Crown Prince, other than him no one should be in line for succession. Although Prince Julian was certainly the son of the king, he was the Second Prince, born to the Second Queen, thus not considered a serious contender for the throne compared to his brother. There shouldn’t even be a trace of him in a conflict for the throne.
“Prince Julian has become exceptionally popular amongst the people. I hate it, but I can’t deny that people are always talking about him. Prince Eckhart is too rigid, people aren’t really that fond of him.”
From what Camilla had seen of Eckhart, he was an excellent and handsome Prince, but he was also dour and humourless. When Prince Julian sought to banish Camilla and marry Liselotte instead, it was Eckhart who was adamantly against it until the very end. But, the way the world saw it, he was too rooted in custom and pragmatism, not in tune with things like fated love and a good story.
In order to become the King of a nation, it was necessary to win the hearts and minds of the people. In that respect, the chasm between the all-too-serious Eckhart and Julian, whose love story with Liselotte was still an incredibly popular tale, was vast.
“His Highness plans to humiliate you in public, marry Liselotte and then ride a wave of popular support. Apparently His Majesty’s condition is only getting worse, so something really might happen soon, huh?”
“His Majesty is truly so ill?”
“I’ve only heard the rumours going around, but apparently it’s really serious. There’s even a story about someone seeing the reaper himself lurking over His Majesty’s shoulder. That’s just a tall tale though, obviously. But it seems like those sorts of stories are popular, like that old rumour of the ghost haunting the royal palace.”
With that, Diana clapped Camilla on the shoulders.
“Alright, done! Make sure to keep up your keen, Camilla.”
Until the day of the trial, Camilla was forbidden to leave the mansion. That’s what her parents had told her. But, the way Diana talked to her, it was like she was daring her to go on another escapade into town, just like the old days.
Running a final hand through her hair, Diana turned Camilla around to face her with a sharp expression.
“Listen, Therese will be back in the evening. That evil little lout, she hasn’t changed at all. Don’t you dare lose to her!”
I think this chapter explains a lot about Camilla