Fortunately, the generous lunch ended in a pleasant atmosphere. Carlisle was the same as before, Alphord was polite, Mirabelle was calm, and nothing of huge consequence had happened. The worries which kept Elena up the previous night seemed to be founded on nothing.
“Your Highness, would you care for a game of chess?”
Carlisle nodded in reply to the proposal.
The two men made to move to Alphord’s study. As a rule, women’s and men’s gatherings were divided at parties. Men gathered together to share conversation on topics such as politics and economics, and while the women gathered for news and family gossip. It was not unusual for the sexes to separate after the meal. Carlisle followed Alphord, then turned back to look at Elena.
“I’ll be back in a while. I’ll see you soon.”
It was a simple farewell, but it was loaded with affection. Elena smiled awkwardly and nodded, while Mirabelle and her maids pretended to swoon in the background. As soon as Carlisle exited from the room, Elena was immediately hounded with questions from Mirabelle and the maids.
“Sister, you’ve been calling him by a pet name this whole time!”
“The prince is so handsome.”
“You two look wonderful together!”
Elena was completely flustered at their enthusiastic reactions.
“Oh, it just happened–”
The maids kept jabbering away that Elena had no time to answer.
“Show the prince to your room later. We’ll bring you a delicious cup of tea.”
“What are you talking about? We mustn’t disturb them! Try to save those two some quality time.”
“Oh! I’m so excited!”
Elena left the maids to their gossip and slipped away. She had prepared a rough outline of the story when she met Carlisle, but this didn’t seem to be the right time to mention it. She left the room, and Mirabelle quickly followed her.
“Hm? Oh, Mirabelle.”
Elena turned her head to find her sister approaching her. Elena was planning to go back to her room, but Mirabelle took her hand and dragged her in a different direction.
“What are you doing? Where are we going?”
“Shh! Follow me quietly, sister.”
Mirabelle glanced around and gestured at her to stay silent. As Elena looked down with a questioning look, Mirabelle replied in a whisper.
“Don’t you wonder what Father and the Crown Prince are talking about?”
Elena’s eyes widened at the unexpected question. Of course she wondered. To say otherwise would be a lie. She was worried about what her father would say, and she worried what Carlisle would do. Mirabelle smiled as if she understood Elena’s feelings.
“I found a place where you can secretly listen to them. Let’s go!”
With a puzzled expression, she allowed herself to be led by Mirabelle’s hand towards the study. Unlike the first time she was unexpectedly dragged away, Elena moved cautiously. Alphord held a prominent position as the head of the knights, while Carlisle held years of experience at the battlefield. A clumsy approach would easily reveal her.
She easily jumped the waist-high fence with one hand.
“Wow, sister. You’re amazing.”
Even to Mirabelle’s inexperienced eyes, Elena’s nimble moves were something impressive.
Alphord’s study was located on the first floor, and the windows were relatively low and easily accessible. However, with its large windows she didn’t have a place where she could easily eavesdrop unnoticed, and there was also no guarantee that they would talk with the windows open either. However…
There was a small ventilation window for the book that always remained opened, and was located in a secluded area. As she moved through the path to approach the window, Elena stopped and looked at Mirabelle.
“Mirabelle, you keep watch here. It might be too difficult for you to see.”
While Mirabelle had brought her this far, it was likely that anyone would notice her footsteps if she came any closer. The window was located higher than the others as well, and it was not easy for Mirabelle to reach with her short stature.
“Alright. Tell me about it later.”
“Yes, I will.”
She was grateful to Mirabelle for finding this place for her sake. If Elena wanted to eavesdrop she could have found a suitable place herself, though not necessarily this one. But before she had no intention to do so, and thanks to Mirabelle her curiosity was stoked.
Elena approached the small window quietly and peeked inside the study. Alphord and Carlisle were seated facing each other as they played chess. Alphord was white, and Carlisle was black. The chaotic situation on the board seemed to indicate a tight struggle.
“You’re better at chess than I anticipated.”
“I’ve been working on a tactic, and I’ve never lost a game like this.”
Their voices were clear enough that it was easy enough to overhear them. In case she could be seen, she lowered her head and listened to them talk. However, no specific conversation was forthcoming.
‘Was this really necessary? They’re only going to play chess.’
Elena was debating whether she should go back to Mirabelle when Alphord’s stern voice cut through her thoughts.
“What do you think of my daughter? Please be honest with me.”
“You said you would give her to me. Do you intend to take back what you just said?”
“No, but she’s…she’s not suitable to be a princess.”
Elena’s expression hardened and the question of “Why?” ran through her mind.
“It is not for Lord Blaise to judge. I decide whether she can live up to the position.”
He set down a chess piece louder than before. Elena swallowed her breath subconsciously. Indeed, Carlisle was fulfilling the contract amazingly. This act could fool anyone.
“My daughter…do you care about her?”
“The word care is an understatement. I’m driven mad with desire your daughter.”
Elena’s heart thumped wildly in her chest. Until now, she couldn’t consider his words to be completely true. But for this moment, even Elena seemed to almost believe it.
“She is not just your daughter, but a crown princess. If you make such disparaging remarks like now, I will not tolerate it even if it comes from my father-in-law. I hope you don’t forget that from now on.”
Carlisle’s voice was like a spring breeze on Elena’s frozen heart. She clutched a hand to her chest. This was a strange feeling. It was something she had never felt in her past life or present life. It was as if in her heart, which had been parched like a drought, a small bud grew.