Inside the Claude’s Palace, in Julian’s bedroom.
“As expected, having my strength back really does feel like living again.”
Julian stretched her arms this way and that, rotated her waist, checking her movements. The ability to move her body at will brought such a refreshing feeling that a smile steadfastly lingered on her face.
“Heh, getting chickenpox as soon as her going-out ban is lifted? Serves her right-”
Moreover, she had just heard through Blanche’s coachman that Iva was stricken with chickenpox, immobilized, and confined to her hideout.
The satisfaction zapped through her, feeling like her curse had worked effectively. She was already looking forward to the misfortunes that would befall her next.
“Hmph, now is the perfect time to turn Ray’s heart, but why did he have to go to Grace now? How important could that little family of his be?”
Julian was opening the window with an innocent face to enjoy the view outside when it happened.
The sound of knocking came from the bedroom door.
Julian was too busy looking at the mirror even when the sound of the door opening reached her.
“Are you here to prepare the wash water? I’ll be eating breakfast with His Majesty, so there’s no need to prepare it in the bedroom today……”
“You seem to be doing well, Julian.”
Startled by a voice that was not the maid’s, Julian spun around abruptly.
Claude stood there, holding a tray with medicine and water in one hand.
“Oh, brother? What’s the matter this early in the morning?”
“Of course, I came to check on your condition. You can move well now, can’t you?”
Claude did check on Julian’s condition daily, but it was his first time visiting this early.
Until yesterday she looked like she was dying and yet she looked too healthy today, it would seem strange, so Julian hurriedly acted calm.
“It seems like the medicine is finally taking effect. I wanted to feel the outside air, even just like this.”
“I understand it must have been stifling, being in your bedroom for so long?”
Claude naturally entered the bedroom and set the tray down on the table.
“You’ll have breakfast with His Majesty?”
He didn’t miss the words Julian thought she was saying to a maid.
“Yeah. His Majesty has been so worried about me, now that I’m a bit better, I want to show my face right away.”
“That’s a good idea. His Majesty was worried enough to visit my palace every day.”
He handed Julian the water and medicine he had brought.
“But make sure you take your medicine.”
“But I am a bit envious of you.”
“I envy you, being able to dine without scheduling it with His Majesty.”
Claude gazed out the open window, wearing a bitter smile.
After swallowing down her medicine, Julian handed him the water glass, as she would to a maid, and asked,
“Do you want to dine with His Majesty too, brother?”
“It’s a little embarrassing, but it seems I still harbor a childish desire to feel our father’s affection.”
One of Julian’s eyebrows flicked up before resettling.
Of course, Claude’s ambitions were no secret to her, but such an open display of emotion was rare, making Julian feel momentarily superior.
“Well, if you want, should I ask His Majesty to dine with us?”
Even amidst Julian’s seemingly begrudging tone, Claude’s face blossomed into a smile of joy. However, it was fleeting, as he quickly covered his mouth with a hand, concealing his expression.
“No. You’re not fully recovered, I can’t pressure you into it. Spend some quiet time with His Majesty.”
Witnessing Claude’s habitual emotional guard spring into action, Julian offered a brighter smile.
“You worried a lot about me too, not just His Majesty. You checked on me every day. I want to repay the favor in some way.”
“Julian, there’s no debt between us. I was merely acting for my sister’s sake. If that’s your sentiment, I should decline.”
“No, really, I want to express my gratitude to you by doing this. Let’s go to His Majesty together.”
Claude didn’t immediately agree but lowered his hand from his mouth. His expression was awash with hesitation.
“…Will His Majesty be pleased even if I join?”
“Of course. You know that His Majesty is happy whenever I’m around, right? If I go with you, he will welcome you.”
As Julian assured him, Claude finally nodded in agreement.
“It’s serious business. I should get ready and look presentable for His Majesty.”
“Great. See you in front of the Emperor’s palace in 30 minutes.”
“Yes, and thank you, truly, for inviting me along, Julian.”
Claude, joyful, briefly embraced Julian, expressing his gratitude before hastily exiting the bedroom.
“Ah, though the body is the same as any person’s.”
As soon as Claude left the room, his smile disappeared, replaying the moment of scanning the bedroom in his mind.
He had looked around while entering with the medicine, but there were no signs of anyone else having been there. Who was she talking to last night? How did they vanish without using the door? His mind twisted into further complexity.
“Your Highness, you’ve returned quickly.”
As Claude re-entered the bedroom, Chase swiftly approached.
“Chase, prepare my formal attire immediately. I’m going to see His Majesty.”
“Really, Your Highness?”
Chase blinked in surprise. Claude, who had met the Emperor only on special occasions, was now going to see him on an ordinary day. With the thought that His Highness must look his best, Chase hurriedly prepared the outfit.
As Claude changed into black trousers and a fresh vest, finishing the look with a softly glittering sky-blue jacket, he spoke.
“Listen well, and do exactly as I say in 30 minutes.”
Claude commanded in a whisper so quiet it was almost inaudible. Sensing a different tone than usual, Chase quickly realized this was a significant task.
“Send all of Julian’s maids to another palace, claiming it’s the day for the palace’s regular cleaning.”
“After that, go alone into Julian’s bedroom, look through everything, and report back. Drawers, under the bed, leave nothing unchecked.”
Although taken aback by the order to search the princess’s bedroom, Chase nodded firmly, bound by his command.
“I will report back without omitting a single detail.”
* * *
The Grace villa of the Castello family.
Waking to a brilliant morning, Iva startled at the unfamiliar ceiling, jolted upright.
“Oh, right. I came to Grace.”
Realizing tardily, she sheepishly scratched the back of her head.
“It’s a bit chilly today.”
Certainly, it didn’t have the comfort of the Blanche mansion, and her body felt unusually sluggish.
Her waist and shoulders were stiff. Even as she shifted, trying to loosen her joints, there remained a heaviness, as if something was laid upon her.
A servant, catching on to Iva’s stirrings, tentatively entered.