Chapter 4. Snow
Following the autumn banquet, a period of seemingly purposeless time ensued. Aria and Caelius remained in conflict, with her desiring to unveil his true self, while he harbored no intention to reveal it. The season had transitioned to winter from fall, and Aria felt a bit weary.
Expressing her fatigue, Aria contemplated the futility of being unnoticed, asserting that people don’t undergo significant transformations. She reclined on the bed, her thoughts lingering on the charming Cailius. Eventually, she decided it was time to accept the current state of affairs and let things remain as they were.
Seeing no indication of improvement in the circumstances, she diligently stashed away as much money as possible. Anticipating the potential onset of treason, she believed her chances of survival would be higher if she swiftly fled the country.
During this period, a sense of despair crept over her. Suddenly, Aria’s attention was drawn to the window. Delicate snowflakes were gently descending from the sky.
“Oh, it’s snow.”
Aria eagerly leaped out of bed, opened the window, and reached out. A chilly snowflake landed in her palm, melting away. It marked the arrival of the tenth winter in this realm.
Curiosity sparked, she pondered aloud, “What’s Caelius up to? He’s been unusually quiet lately.”
It had been three days since she last laid eyes on him. Aria sighed, mustering the energy to rise from her seat, recognizing that despite her fatigue, she still needed to cross paths with him.
“We could use the first snowfall as an excuse to feign friendliness. Who knows, perhaps this charade will gradually lead to genuine feelings.”
Although she understood the slim likelihood of such a scenario, Aria exited the room. Abruptly, during her stroll down the hallway, she came to a halt. Something about the mansion felt peculiar, or more precisely, it was devoid of its usual vitality. There was a noticeable absence of people compared to the norm.
“What’s going on?” Aria wondered aloud. The scant number of individuals navigating the mansion were all wielding shovels.
The realization struck her—they were shoveling snow.
After the fall banquet, a stretch of seemingly purposeless time unfolded. Aria and Caelius remained in conflict, with her eager to unveil his true self, while he had no intention of revealing it.
Winter had now settled in after the fall season, and Aria, feeling a bit weary, questioned the significance of being inconspicuous.
“People don’t change,” she mused, contemplating the snow-covered surroundings and the ongoing activities within the mansion.
Aria applauded and glanced out the window, finally comprehending the activity around her. It appeared that everyone was occupied with shoveling snow, ensuring it was cleared before it had a chance to accumulate.
“But it hasn’t even piled up yet… already?” Aria expressed her surprise.
Feeling a bit puzzled, she swiftly brushed off the notion. “I’m sure the snow removal has nothing to do with me,” she reassured herself.
* * *
When they reached Caelius’ room, they were met by his assistant, Goshen. Aria recognized him from her readings—the only person who knew the real Caelius.
“Mr. Assistant!” Aria deliberately sneered, employing the title with a touch of mockery. Goshen’s countenance took on a peculiar expression.
“Is Daddy inside? It’s snowing… Lily wants to make a snowman with Daddy!” Aria asked innocently, her hair tousled.
“Princess, I’m sorry. His Majesty has given orders not to let anyone in today.”
However, a meeting with Caelius, which she had assumed would be granted, remained elusive. Aria blinked, perplexed by the denial.
“His Majesty is not feeling well today.”
Swordmasters who have been infused with the energy of their blades are immune to even the most common colds. Aria’s brow wrinkled slightly as she pondered this information.
“Is Dad sick?”
“Yes. I think he should take it easy today.”
Curious, Aria inquired, “What’s wrong?” However, Goshen’s reaction indicated he had no intention of sharing details with her.
“It’s just a case of fatigue, princess, and I’m afraid he won’t be able to see you today.”
“Hmph.” Aria tossed it around, dismissively.
They’re shoveling snow!
Deliberately pouting, she moistened her eyes and filled them with water. With a heavy heart, she pushed back the tears, allowing a somber thought to aid in the effort.
“Alright, then I can play on my own. Just let Dad know we can have fun together once he’s feeling better.”
Aria eventually departed the mansion with empty hands. Users were actively cleaning the snow while she watched them quietly. She then went to the deserted back garden, which was still covered in a light layer of snow.
Despite the snowy surroundings, the chill wasn’t too intense. Aria’s footsteps created a satisfying crunching sound as she strolled. Squatting down, she gathered the snow, shaping it into a solid circle.
“Let’s make a snowman.”
Deliberately pouting, I moistened my eyes and filled them with water. With a heavy heart, I pushed back the tears, allowing a somber thought to aid in the effort.
“Alright, then I will play on my own. Just let Dad know we can have fun together once he’s feeling better.”
Ultimately, Aria left the mansion with empty hands. Users were actively engaged in clearing the snow as she observed them passively. She then wandered to the deserted back garden, still pristine with a thin layer of snow.
Despite the icy surroundings, the chill was manageable. Aria’s footsteps created a satisfying crunching sound as she walked. Squatting, she gathered the snow and formed it into a solid circle.
“Let’s make a snowman.”
The man’s voice struck a chord of familiarity, leaving Aria visibly embarrassed as she stared.
“I’ll make sure your snowman doesn’t melt,” he stated flatly. He cast what appeared to be an unknown enchantment upon her perfectly made snowman, muttering something under his breath.
“Who the hell do you think you are, barging in here…!” Aria said, recognizing the intruder as Archduke Wittelsbach. It seemed strange for such a suspicious guy to be in this place.
Before she could finish her sentence, the stranger vanished from view, having finished his miraculous performance. It was an incredible sight, and Aria’s body tensed in surprise, her legs briefly becoming lifeless.
As she peered at the place where the man had vanished, Aria turned her focus back to the snowman, which appeared to be untouched from when she first made it.
Three days later, the snowman still stood resolute, defying the natural course of melting, as if Aria’s promise to preserve it had been fulfilled. This was even though all the snow that had fallen during those days had melted away.
* * *
“Dad, come this way.” Aria beamed, gently pulling on Caelius’ arm. Eager to reveal the snowman she had crafted now that the snowfall had ceased, she huffed and puffed, guiding Caelius to the garden.
“What’s got you so excited to show me?” Caelius smiled, letting himself be led by her small hand.
The snow, which had accumulated significantly just three days prior, had vanished without a trace—except for the snowman Aria had diligently made.
Aria led him to an empty garden and proudly revealed the snowman.
Caelius’s snowman and hers, both meticulously crafted, stood side by side in the garden. Anticipating Caelius’s customary response—perhaps a thank-you accompanied by a forced smile—Aria forced a smile of her own at the thought of his predictable reaction.
“When it snowed a few days ago, I made a snowman of you and me!” Aria joyfully exclaimed, sharing the details of her creative endeavor with Caelius.
“What do you think? It turned out great!” Aria said, jumping to her feet. Caelius’ reply, on the other hand, was unusual.
Under normal circumstances, he would have said, “Good job, thank you, daughter,” patting her on the back and offering some hollow remark. But there was no response this time.
She just realized something was wrong when she looked at Caelius.
Caelius’ eyes flickered as he looked at the snowman. His normally grinning look had changed to an extremely chilly manner. Aria recognized Caelius’ true, unguarded expression the moment she spotted it.
Caelius stayed immobile, his fists clenched, as if hiding something within, his gaze fixed on the snowman with frightening intensity.
“What is going on, what a reaction.” Aria, caught aback by the unexpected reaction, looked up at him, unsure how to proceed.
“Dad… what’s wrong?” Caelius spoke after a prolonged silence, but his voice was too low to be heard. Aria grabbed the hem of his robe and called out to him once again.
Caelius, on the other hand, would not even look in her direction.
His countenance remained cold, fists clenched, and his gaze unwavering. Aria had a premonition; she couldn’t pinpoint what it was, but she sensed she had struck a nerve.
As if confirming her intuition, Caelius finally spoke, his voice unusually husky, resembling a growl from a wild animal.
“……You’ve done nothing.”
His comments were accompanied by a terrifying bass undertone. Caelius immediately called out to Goshen, who quickly emerged from his hiding place.
Caelius motioned with his chin, causing Goshen to quickly take up Aria.
“Princess, I think you should return to the mansion.”
“……Dad is acting strange,” Aria expressed her concern, perplexed by the strange turn of events.
She exclaimed, terrified. Aria craned her neck to get another glimpse at Caelius, who was staring at her from behind.
Caelius remained fixated on the snowman, his expression void of emotion.
“Oh, is something wrong with my dad? What’s wrong? What?” Goshen didn’t provide an answer.
“Next time… don’t do this.”
Flustered, Aria furrowed her brow. “What is this?”
The air was deafeningly quiet. Goshen appeared to be thinking over something, and when he finally spoke, he said, “……Don’t show your eyes to His Majesty.”
“Don’t look him in the eye?” Aria responded in a dumbfounded tone.
“His Majesty doesn’t like snow and winter. If you hadn’t been blonde and golden-eyed, you would have been slashed by His Highness’s sword and thrown on top of that snowman.”
Goshen came to a halt, swallowing the rest of his words. Aria could only shake her head, not completely comprehending his cryptic comment.
* * *
“……Your Highness, are you all right?”
Despite his reaction, Goshen, who had accompanied Aria to her room, could tell by Caelius’s expression that things were not going well.
“Someone must have put a spell on the snowman to keep it from melting.”
“…… I’ll look into it.”
“No, thanks,” Caelius interjected. “Because I think I know who it is.”
Caelius swallowed hard. “I’m guessing you wanted me to kill Aria in a fit of rage……..” A sneer tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Not surprising for someone who wants Aria dead.”
His fingertips tapping on the desk echoed across the room. Aria’s life had been saved by the last shreds of sanity. Caelius took a handful of tablets from the drawer, gulped them, and stood up.
“I’ve got to get back to my daughter.”
“…… If you don’t mind.”
Suddenly, his expression changed into that of his typical adoring father. Caelius brushed his brow against Aria’s and approached her chamber. Despite barely holding his rage, he unwittingly said things to her that he shouldn’t have, leading the carefully created mask of warmth to almost disintegrate.
He knocked on the door, clicking his tongue. “Daughter, it’s Daddy.”
Aria, who had always been a sweetheart, may have been surprised and hurt to hear him call her useless for making a snowman. Caelius knocked again, hoping to calm her down.
“I need to talk to you. May I come in?”
Aria’s voice broke through the enormous oak doors after a lengthy stillness.
“come on in.”
With permission, he cautiously opened the door, and it hissed open. Inside the room, a gaunt and haggard Aria sat on the bed. Caelius intended to express his apologies.
Aria, on the other hand, was faster. Though he expected her to shut herself in her room and cry herself to sleep if she were a little younger, she appeared remarkably steadfast.
“No, It’s okay, you don’t need to say sorry.”
Caelius was taken aback and narrowed his eyes in surprise, like a puppy watching its owner’s every action. He moved slowly toward Aria, then stooped to meet her eye level.
Sensing the vulnerability in her voice, Caelius gently squeezed Aria’s hand.
“I’m sorry, dear. You worked so hard on that snowman, and I made a mistake.”
“No, no…… I just didn’t realize you didn’t like snow.” A sigh escaped her petite lips. Caelius looked up at her and cupped her cheek tenderly. The plumpness of her cheeks pleasantly tickled his hand.
“It’s not your fault, okay?”
“……Yes, but I’m sorry, Dad.” If she was apologizing at all, it was because she was afraid that a snowman would undo all of her hard work.
Despite her fears, there wasn’t much of a connection between her and Caelius. He observed her lack of enthusiasm, rolling his eyes and appearing deep in thought.
“Do you want me to tell you why your dad hates snow…?” Caelius suggested. Aria’s eyes widened at his words.
“You’re going to tell me why you hate snow…? For some reason, hearing this story felt like it would bring her one millimeter closer to him, so she nodded and then he smiled.
Caelius pursed his lips for a while as if considering what to say. It was a difficult thing to bring up. He said after a short silence.
“I… first went to war when I was 12 years old,” Caelius began. Aria’s eyes widened, as if hearing this for the first time, even if she didn’t know the details.
“It was my first war. To win the war against the North, one son from each family, noble or commoner, had to serve unconditionally.”
“So, there was a lot of backlash from the nobility. Why should only the nobles sacrifice themselves for the country? Why should only our sons be sent off into dangerous battlefields?” Caelius said, his voice trembling slightly. “I was twelve at the time, and Azekrisis was six.”
Aria swallowed hard.
“You can’t send a six-year-old to war, so I had to go, but that doesn’t mean a father or mother can’t go to war themselves, does it?” Caelius laughed at the idea of an emperor and empress fighting. “So I had no choice but to participate, even though I didn’t want to.”
Aria’s visage stiffened, in contrast to his small smile. Even though it came from a guy now known as Caelius, hearing the narrative of a twelve-year-old boy being sent out to battle wasn’t nice. Aria’s brow furrowed, even though she was previously aware of some of the details.
“The northern part of the country, where we went to fight the war, was much colder and snowier than the capital, and it was always covered in snow so that when we walked, we would be ankle-deep in it.”
His grip on hers intensified.
“……I hate snow because of that.”
“Because to me, a pure white field of snow is nothing but a battlefield, and red blood is always splattered on it, and princes who were talking to me in the ballroom just a few months ago have been stabbed with blades and left to lie in the snow, their flesh hardening in the cold.”
There was a hint of madness in his dark eyes.
“Your eyes remind me of that.” Aria locked eyes with Caelius, dumbfounded.
“I wonder if… these words are true.” She didn’t know if his words were true or false.
In the original story, it had been glossed over and ended with [Caelius participated in the war]. So she couldn’t tell if he was telling the truth or not just by looking at his expression, as if he was painstakingly pulling out his wounds.
One thing is for sure, this Caelius was a stranger. It was a far cry from his usual smirk and false laugh.
“That’s why your dad hates snow.” He smiled, his eyes narrowing slightly. It was a crooked smile, and Aria bit her lip the moment she saw it. It felt strange.
“I wonder if some people are born sociopaths. Unlike psychopaths, she’d heard that sociopaths were acquired. I wondered what kind of person 12-year-old Caelius had been when he was forced to go to war against his will.
Was he the same sociopath who saw people as tools, who couldn’t be honest about his feelings? My mind raced.
When I think about it, it wasn’t until after he’d fought so many wars that he started to get a reputation for cruelty. Twelve years old. Only fifth grade in Korea. Aria shook her head.
A strange feeling bubbled up inside her. Her hands shook.
“My dad is…….” Aria forced the words out. “Weren’t you scared of ……?”
“The ……war.” So many people must have died by his side. Aria couldn’t even imagine. Her voice quivered.
At her question, Caelius stared at her blankly. “Were you scared……?
It was more than 20 years ago. The memory was hazy. The emotions of the day were forgotten, unable to be recalled. All he could think of was the bodies piled on the snow and the scattered red blood.
Caelius squinted like an idiot. “……I don’t know. I don’t remember that.”
He stretched out his palm in a daze. When he thought about it, he couldn’t remember it; only the scars on his body bore the pain of that day like a medal.
The first war was not his will, but the second, third, and fourth. All the wars that followed had been fought of Caelius’s own volition.
He tilted his head and looked up at Aria. Her golden eyes, the same color as his own once upon a time, looked at him in pity.
Reading the emotion in her gaze, Caelius smiled with satisfaction. “Who’s pitying whom?” Caelius mocked inwardly. ‘I may or may not have been afraid of war in the past. It mattered little to him now.
All that mattered was that the daughter in front of him had started to pity him, just as I had planned. That’s what he’d hoped for all along.