Even as my mother held the dishes, she continued talking to me.
“Siara, you look beautiful.”
“Yes, it’s been a while since we had a family meal.”
“That’s right. It feels good to have the family together.”
I couldn’t remember the last time we had a leisurely meal in the garden. Every time we had a meal in the garden, I didn’t realize it, but after exploring various places for three years, I realized there was no place like this.
Sure, anywhere would be better than a place where instead of birdsong, there was the roar of a wild beast, and instead of the scent of flowers, there was the smell of sulfur.
I hummed happily and enjoyed the delicious food. My father and mother were the same. As we were immersed in a peaceful meal, Therid repeatedly tried to provoke me. Although he failed every time.
“Your table manners—”
“They’re quite good, aren’t they? I learned them from Mother.”
“Where were you raised to eat like a savage—”
“I was born in Astita.”
“When you finish your food—”
“Mom, this is delicious!”
By the time we finished the meal, Therid was grumbling and ready to let out a snort. Father quickly took hold of him and practically dragged him back to the mansion.
‘Teach him a lesson.’
The truth was, I had a reason to behave so audaciously. It was because of what Father had said to me privately last time.
‘I will not ask you who you are or where you come from. You will stay with my wife and pretend to be her daughter for the time being. I’ll give you a reasonable compensation.’
It was a fortunate event that happened when I was struggling to explain my position. For now, I would stay at the mansion and observe how things were going.
Most importantly, I was glad that I had a firm leash to hold Therid, who was difficult to deal with. With a victorious smile, I put a sweet dessert into my mouth.
* * *
After a stern scolding from Father, Therid didn’t bother me for a while. As a result, I had some leisure time. Today, I was humming a tune and reading a book in the study.
‘It’s so nice to have some free time.’
As I enjoyed the sunlight outside, I suddenly noticed the pink wallpaper. The faded color and the marks of time reminded me of my childhood.
When my brother and I were teething and converting the room into a study, my mom asked us.
‘What color do you want your study to be?’
My brother jumped up and said.
‘Pink? How tacky!’
‘Tacky? I’m a princess, you know! Princesses like pink!’
‘Silly princess! Who’s a princess? Bleh.’
Mother burst out laughing but soon adopted a firm expression as she scolded Therid.
‘Therid, what kind of behavior is that toward your younger sister?’
‘Mom, she says she’s a princess.’
‘Mom, aren’t I a princess too?’
Looking at us with a mixture of amusement and seriousness, Mother bent down, meeting my gaze.
‘You’re Mother’s princess.’
‘Then, will the study be decorated in pink?’
‘Yes, that’s right.’
Therid strongly protested against it, but Mother didn’t change her decision. As a result, the study, which had a yellowish tint, was adorned with pink wallpaper.
However, to accommodate Therid’s opinion, the desk was placed in blue. Looking at it now, it was a color combination that could be considered jarring, but at that age, I didn’t think it was strange.
Since then, without any further repairs, the study still had pink wallpaper and a blue desk. The only difference was that there used to be two desks, and now only one remained.
As I was absentmindedly going through the room, I noticed ink stains marking my brother’s height on the doorframe. He had gone crazy and insisted on marking it himself, leaving jagged traces behind.
‘Not my mark, huh?’
Well, that was to be expected. I chuckled and shifted my gaze back to the book.
The latest edition of the ‘Herb Book.’ It had been revised this year, so I wanted to see if there was anything new. As I flipped through the pages, filled with familiar knowledge, one herb caught my eye.
I paused my hand that was flipping through.
‘This is an herb that’s discovered to be useful much later.’
There was a story in the original where Hierian made money using this herb. There was a brief description written below the herb’s name. It only mentioned the place it grew and the name of the first discoverer. And there, a familiar name was written.
‘Did Grandma Jimi discover this?’
Grandma Jimi was one of the herbalists in Astita. I widened my eyes at the familiar name.
At that moment, Therid burst into the study and asked,
“Do you know what that means?”
What a disturbance amid my busyness. I replied curtly,
“I’m a healer.”
“Oh, right. That’s it.”
Ugh, that blockhead. I glanced at him. He took out the “Swordsmanship Manual” from the bookshelf. I asked him the same question.
“Do you know what that means, Count Therid?”
In response, he angrily stood up from his seat.
“Hey, I’m a former imperial knight!”
“Wow, you were even an imperial knight?”
I expressed pure admiration. It was worth celebrating that he, a person from Astita, became an imperial knight. It was difficult for strong knights to emerge in Astita, which relied on the power of the Elven race.
And Therid’s power was “Sight Concealment.” When he used his power, brilliant rainbow-colored fairy dust scattered around, obscuring his sight.
It seemed like a quite useful ability, but the problem was that it also obscured the vision of allies. To make use of it in practice, one had to have excellent coordination with their teammates. But Therid desperately learned swordsmanship and passed the test.
‘Why did you learn swordsmanship, Therid?’
‘Because I’m not smart. I have to use my body.’
Joining the Imperial Knights was a very difficult task. Moreover, people from Astita’s noble families were smaller in stature compared to other families.
So on the day, Therid passed the knight’s test, Father held a celebration. Therid himself felt a great sense of pride in being an imperial knight.
‘But why did he take a leave of absence and come back to his hometown?’
I asked him quietly.
“Oh, you’re lying. I heard the imperial knight exam is really hard.”
“It’s true! Here, look!”
He pulled a red velvet cloth from his arms, a badge with five diamonds on it. I held it up. It was the badge of a knight in the crown prince’s service.
‘I see you carry it so dearly on your person, and your pride is still there.’
Why did he return to his hometown? It had been a constant question in my mind. Amid my pondering, he exclaimed.
“Now do you believe me?”
“Well, not yet. Astita is quite far from the royal palace. But if you’re an imperial knight, why are you here?”
“That, that’s because… Mother is ill.”
‘It’s because of me.’
A tiny sense of guilt arose, and I worriedly asked,
“If your leave is too long, it will affect your promotion.”
He hesitated and bit his lip. His sharp eyes, now filled with anger, turned toward me.
“What’s it to you?”
“I feel sorry for your efforts going to waste.”
At that moment, Therid fell silent. His uncomfortable gaze softened as well. Therid was not good at controlling his expression, just as he wasn’t good at anything besides being foolish. That’s why his sulky mood was visible.
“It doesn’t matter anyway. I’m not talented.”
“You possess the power of fairies, and you’re a healer, right? It must be nice to have so much talent. I’m just a dusty fairy… “
With his shoulders slumped, he fell silent. Seeing his bitter expression, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. It was because I vividly recalled how I had envied him since childhood.
‘Siara’s power is healing, is it? Is healing better than fairy dust?’
‘Oh my, Therid. There’s no such thing as good and bad.’
‘Yeah, but mine is better, right?’
In front of our mother, I stuck out my tongue at him, making a mocking gesture.
‘You silly brother! My fairy dust is definitely better!’
I used to tease him so much when we were younger. I never thought he would still feel upset about it.
‘Well, no matter what anyone says, he’s still my older brother. I can’t let him be defeated by the outside world.’
Above all, he was the Astita’s Count. If ever my brother collapsed in my cursed situation, it would be the end of Astita. That’s why I decided to keep my unnecessary interference to myself.
“Nobody can avoid the Count of Astita’s fairy dust.”
“The power you possess, the fairy dust. I happened to overhear it, and it seemed incredibly useful. If you sprinkle it, will it blind the enemy’s eyes?”
His dust was so powerful that it could even conceal the eyes of a magician using sight magic. That’s why knights like my brother Therid trained to prepare for the moment when the fairy dust was scattered.
I remembered how proudly he showed off while spitting out his accomplishments when he came back from his vacation. I could still vividly recall the smile full of pride he had at that time.
Therid raised the corners of his mouth, just like back then.
“Of course! You’d be amazed if you saw it.”
“Wow, is it really that powerful?”
“I can’t even put it into words! Even the Demon King wouldn’t be able to see with my fairy dust!”
“Of course! Imperial knights are different.”
“Alright, alright. Hey, do you like me a little?”
He tapped my shoulder. I responded with a mischievous smile.
Then, as he cleared his throat, he avoided my gaze.
“Don’t misunderstand. I don’t like you or anything.”
After saying that, he left the study. He must not have controlled his strength well because the door slammed shut with a bang. I sighed deeply as I looked at the almost broken door.
‘I wonder who will take that away.’
As I sighed, my attention was drawn to a sound outside the window. The back garden was neglected compared to the well-maintained front garden.
‘It seems like no flowers have been planted separately. The fountain isn’t flowing either.’
At a time when everything should have been filled with flowers, it was strange that nothing was planted in the back garden. I then took a thorough look around the study and soon noticed something strange.
‘Why does the family look so impoverished?’
Faded wallpaper, peeling paint on the furniture, and even the chairs made a creaking sound every time they were moved.
It wasn’t a matter of poor maintenance since the study was spotlessly clean without a speck of dust. It was evident that it wasn’t the servants’ negligence but rather a lack of funds for repairs.
Could something have happened in the family while I was away?
‘I’ll have to find out.’
The peaceful time had come to an end. I stood up from the study chair.
I soon found out the reason.