On Winter’s Doorstep
“I-I am supposed to be here as Your Highness’ guard today… Since I am wearing a uniform like this that’s not suitable for dancing, I… don’t want to bring shame to you… so, umm…”
As I hooked my hand around Liese’s waist as she tried to retreat with a bashful smile, I pulled her closer and whispered softly in her ear.
“Liese, no matter what you’re wearing, you’ll always be the most beautiful girl in the world.
Your uniform is so refreshing and cute, and this is the last time we can spend the Thanksgiving ball together as students. Will you please grant me another memory of you to treasure?”
『Liselotte bluuuuuuushed! Has Sieg finally made a breakthrough in this tense battle that has been raging back and forth!?』
『She’s inches away from being swept off her feet, but admitting it would be a loss. But since she isn’t really refusing to dance out of a concern for etiquette but instead because of her own deep embarrassment, Rize-tan should just give up and accept it. In the game, Finne-chan and Rize-tan shared a dance during the reverse-harem route, you can already see some partners of the same gender dancing already. There shouldn’t be any problems for Rize-tan to dance in a military uniform.』
Casting a gaze around the ballroom floor as Coebayashay spoke, sure enough, there were definitely several members of the same sex happily dancing with one another.
As I did, I began to burst with the feeling that I wanted to dance with Liese in the midst of all of them to show off my cute fiancée to everyone. I bet it would be really fun.
『Ah, that’s right. Before entering the hall, Rize-tan had turned to Finne-chan, who was looking really worried about the prospect of her first public dance, and said ‘Now then, it’s time to show me the fruits of your labour’. Those two sure have been practising a lot at home, haven’t they?』
I can’t accept being outdone like that.
I instantly seized upon the words that Coebayashay had extolled from the heavens.
“So, you’re comfortable dancing with Finne, but I suppose that in the end, I’m no good…?”
I relaxed the strength in my arms as I stared right into her eyes, speaking as plainly and honestly as I could.
“How… how do you know…? No, rather, that was just instruction, there was no deeper meaning to it… What’s more, tonight is supposed to mark the climactic battle against the enemy, so…”
『Woooow~, she’s really doing her best to hold back from having fun, huh?』
『Remembering back now, during their final practice Rize-tan said to Finne-chan ‘Well, I suppose that’s a passing grade?’ And when Finne-chan got really happy about that, there really was this yuri-yuri feeling in the air, wasn’t there?』
As I heard both Liese’s excuses and the revelations of the Goddess, I narrowed my eyes slightly at Liese as she diverted her gaze. Perhaps she was a little self-conscious about the good mood she and her little sister were having before coming here…?
“You truly think that the witch will appear right here, right now…? And besides, like the proverb says, ‘The last partner one will dance with during the festival of Thanksgiving shall be the partner who warms you through the winter’… And, as it stands, won’t that be Miss Finne for you, Liese? I can’t abide by that…”
As she listened to my words, Liese couldn’t meet my gaze.
The time of Thanksgiving was a festival where people expressed their gratitude to the Gods and Goddesses, especially the Goddess Lilena, for peace, prosperity and an abundant harvest. Depending on the region of the country and people’s social class, the festival’s date and length can vary, but the academy’s ball was usually held closer to the beginning of the Thanksgiving festival days. It seems that it’s almost a sort of dress rehearsal for the latter Thanksgiving ball that will be held at the royal palace.
Whilst Thanksgiving is about appreciating what has been gained over the year, especially in terms of a bountiful harvest, it is also about praying to the Gods for the strength to overcome the trials of the harsh winter months. Because of that, there were many people who believed wholeheartedly in the proverb I spoke about. Even if people may be having fun dancing with their friends now, they would put a great amount of care into who they would grant their last dance of the night.
“Uu… B-but, Finne is with Baldur now, so that shouldn’t be an issue…?”
Liselotte mumbled those words, mixed with a sigh. She couldn’t look me in the eye as she stared at her feet. There was something lonely and sad in the way her head drooped down.
“…Uu! I… I under… stand… So long as it’s only a little bit, shall we dance…?”
Ah, after all, Liese really is kind-hearted. Even if she was doing everything in her power to resist doing it for her sake, she was still willing to dance for mine?
As she said those words I was so happy to hear with a reluctant voice, I burst into a smile.
“However, only a little bit!? Only a little bit, I say!?”
Without saying anything to Liese’s slightly irritated sounding words, I took her hand and lead her towards the centre of the ballroom.
“There are some people who can’t dance because they’re waiting for us, so let’s be quick now.”
The Crown Prince and the daughter of the Marquis. In other words, Liese and I are the highest-ranking couple at the ball when it came to social status. Even if the faculty tried to stress that this wasn’t a strictly formal affair, there were a lot of students who thought it would be too rude for them to start dancing before she and I began.
When she heard my words and noticed their gazes, Liese closed her mouth and nodded at my words, gracefully following my lead.
The very moment the first song ended, Liese tried to make good on her promise of ‘just a little’ and immediately made to return to where we had been standing before, but I didn’t let go of her hand. Since Liese was determined not to do anything to embarrass me in public, she followed my lead when the music for the second dance began to play and matched my steps.
“Hey, Liese… are you really going to go to the courtyard?”
As we swayed back and forth to the slow melody of the song, I asked Liese a question I’d asked her many times these past few days.
“Of course. That Ancient Witch, I want to cut it down with my own two hands instead of cowering away in fear.”
Liese responded without a moment’s hesitation.
That had been her answer every time. Especially since the day had come, I couldn’t fight the feeling that I wanted Liese to be somewhere safe, but it seemed that it was to no avail.
“But, above all else… I wish to be able to stand by your side, always and to whatever end. In fact, having to wait here for you to return is far more terrifying to me than the prospect of facing that witch.”
As I wondered just how I could persuade her, Liese looked into my eyes and said that firmly in a way that left me no room to argue.
I suppose that’s right.
I wouldn’t be able to bear to stay somewhere safe if I knew Liese was in danger either.
Even if someone told me not to go because I was royalty, I’d ignore them and go to her side anyway.
I remembered her feelings and determination that had made me speechless so many times before and smiled.
“Then, let’s make sure that we face it hand in hand? Just like that day, the first time we met.”
“The first day we… met…?”
As I spoke with a smile, Liese tilted her head in obvious confusion.
She must not remember it, but I still have a memory of when she was five years old and we first met, I did take her hand.
The first day that I ever saw Liese, I hadn’t been told that we would be engaged. In fact, our engagement hadn’t yet been confirmed at all.
Things weren’t supposed to happen the way they did that day, but purely by chance, I was a little captivated by the adorable young girl I met, whose first words I heard from her mouth were ‘Prince’. She seemed so nervous, so I tried smiling to reassure her, but for some reason, I wanted to be closer with her as well, so I eventually took her hand in mine.
By the time we had grown up, Liese had become stronger and bolder, and I began to think that she didn’t think very much of me at all.
Also, although our engagement wasn’t formalized at all by that point, our respective families seeing my behaviour on that day decided to take the potential engagement much more seriously from then on.
The Liese in front of me now, who was furrowing her brows deeply as if she were scouring her memories, was also incredibly cute. Her long golden hair was swept back into a high ponytail that would help keep it out of the way during a fight, and there was something refreshingly cute about that guard uniform of hers.
Well, Liese is always cute no matter what she wears, of course.
But, if it weren’t for Endow and Coebayashay, I really would have stayed completely oblivious to that.
So, even if she doesn’t remember our first meeting together, that doesn’t matter to me. Of course, I’d be happy if she remembered it just a little, though.
“It’s no problem if you don’t remember. But, although you were very cute as a young girl, Liese, I think you’re much cuter now. And, of course, I’ll never forget that.”
When I smiled, Liese blushed so furiously I almost let out a laugh.
“Wha… wha… Ahhh, jeez!”
Liese, who was about to cry out in frustration, eventually just puffed up her cheeks in an adorable pout.
But, no matter how upset she was, she didn’t miss a single step in her dance or slouch that elegant posture of hers even an inch.
“…I understand. Then, let’s make sure to hold hands. I too… will be a little encouraged if we do that.”
Although her face was a deep shade of red and she couldn’t look right at me, Liese said that in a quiet voice.
“However, you must let me go when it begins, alright!? I’ll be wielding my spear, so you must be sure to keep your distance, okay!?”
I couldn’t help but smile as she tried to cover up her previous honesty with a furious torrent of words.
“Mm, yeah, I suppose it can’t be helped today, can it?”
‘But who knows what I might do in the future?’ were the words I desperately wanted to say, but I couldn’t tease her anymore when I saw that relieved look on her face.
When Thanksgiving was over, we would be on winter’s doorstep. Those cold, harsh months.
I hoped that, during every day of that frigid winter, we could stay side by side.
As I gently squeezed her hand in mine, I never wanted to let her go.
The happiness that I had found intertwining her fingers with mine, I would never let it slip away again.
As I made that resolution in my mind, we continued to dance.