I suddenly stiffened my body. A scent similar to mamela’s and a voice that I’ve heard somewhere before…
As I traced back my memories, I realized that he was a member of Mamela’s family. Countless thoughts raced through my mind.
Surely he didn’t see me falling, right? Are the bushes covering me properly? Among the many thoughts that crossed my mind, one stood out the most firmly.
“If he sees me, it will put Mamela in a difficult situation…!”
I held my breath, worried that my ears and tail might be sticking out of the bushes. Thankfully, it seemed like nothing had popped out due to my small size. In the meantime, a puzzled voice from Mamela came from above.
“Mamela, what’s going on?”
The soft, low voice nearby surprised me once again.
‘It seems like they’re right in front of me…’
I wanted to clear away the bushes and catch a glimpse of the human who appeared to be a member of Mamela’s family. However, I didn’t want to make Mamela uncomfortable, so I held back. I suppressed the urge to pull myself back.
‘Just endure a little longer…’
I tried to keep my whole body stiff and not move. Unfortunately, both my hind legs were caught on the tree, forcing me to tear my legs apart. Yet, I couldn’t even change my position for fear of making a rustling sound.
Mamela’s voice reached my ears.
“Um, my handkerchief flew away. The wind was strong earlier. Did you happen to see…?”
“No, I didn’t see it. Do you want help looking for it?”
I absentmindedly leaned my ears towards his voice. It’s strange. The voice I heard was similar to what I’d heard before, but this time it felt different. It was much gentler than last time, making it possible to mistake it for someone else. For some reason, I heard a surprised tone in Mamela’s voice.
“Oh, no! It’s okay. It’s getting late, Brother. Where are you going?”
“Something came up suddenly, and I need to visit Marzhen in the capital.”
“Oh, you’ve been going out a lot these days… Are you very busy?”
Unintentionally, my heart skipped a beat at Mamela’s listless voice. Fortunately, I quickly regained my composure and suppressed the sound to a minimum, but my heart raced as if I had caused a major accident. Luckily, Mamela’s family right beside me seemed to have not heard the noise I made.
If they had heard, they would have immediately rummaged through the bushes and grabbed the back of my neck, not responding to Mamela’s words like I am now.
“…Mamela, I’m sorry I couldn’t stay with you. When I come back, how about we have dinner together for the first time in a while?”
“Really? I’d love that…!”
Unlike earlier, his voice regained quite a bit of liveliness. It seemed he had quickly regained his energy. A quiet laughter echoed from beside us. It was light and faint, dispersing quickly.
“Alright. Then I’ll be on my way.”
“Yes. Take care, Brother.”
Finally, he turned to leave. As his presence grew distant and eventually vanished completely, I heard the sound of Marmela running from afar.
“Aril, are you okay?”
I was lifted out of the buried bushes. When I met Mamela’s worried golden eyes, a relieved breath escaped me. Due to the effort of freeing myself from the tree earlier, a slight numbness had settled in my hip.
Mamela carefully examined every part of my body. Despite falling from a height and getting stuck in the thicket, I was fortunate not to have any injuries. The only thing that had changed was that my once fluffy fur had become a bit tangled. Mamela swiftly brushed away the leaves that had stuck to my fur and pulled me into her arms.
“Sorry, did I come too late?”
I showed Mamela the handkerchief that I had in my mouth. When she looked up at me with a gaze seeking praise, her expression became peculiar. She slowly stroked my back.
“Aril, thank you… If you had lost that handkerchief, I would have been really sad. It was something my mother left behind.”
I nuzzled my head against Mamela’s hand that was taking the handkerchief. Responding to my affection, Mamela touched my chin and said,
“But you must never do such risky things again, okay?”
Soon, she held me tightly in her arms, making sure my small body was buried in her clothing. Her occasional glances around to see if anyone was there had a slightly bitter undertone, but without showing any sign, I buried my face in her embrace. As the door closed, a familiar scent wafted in strongly, and it was only then that I lifted my head from Mamela’s embrace.
First and foremost, there was Jona, holding something preciously with both hands, wearing a perplexed expression.
“Miss? Where have you been? And you have that fluffy bundle in your arms…”
“Aril fell out of the window.”
“What..? Goodness gracious! Is Aril okay? It’s so tiny that even putting it outside would be scary! What should we do? Should we call a vet right away? Oh, my word. I’m not sure. Since it’s still a kitten, will it be able to land properly from this height…”
“Jona, calm down. Aril is perfectly fine. Look at this.”
Mamela lifted me out of her arms and showed me to Jona. When our eyes met, I let out a little meow.
Yona examined me closely, inspecting every inch of my body. She even examined my backside so attentively that I got startled and flicked my tail.
“It seems like everything is okay. I’m really relieved.”
“But what’s that you’re holding in your hands, Jona?”
“Oh. Lord Idilos asked me to give it to you, Miss.”
They moved to the sofa. Mamela placed me on her lap and received a small box from Jona. I wasn’t interested in their affairs, so I tugged at the lace on Mamela’s clothes and played around. Then, I heard a gasp. I lifted my head to see Marmela with wide eyes, looking at the box.
“Wow, this is Garnet Diamond from Ludovito…!”
“Lord Idilos prepared it for you, Miss.”
As Mamela reached out, the box revealed dazzling jewels. Seeing something like that for the first time in my life, I was so intrigued that I opened my mouth in astonishment. The red gem was intricately carved into the delicate shape of a flower. Under the light, it seemed to reflect the light, emitting a radiant glow.
I was completely captivated by the beautiful gem, and even Mamela seemed to be at a loss for words as she gazed at it.
“It’s truly beautiful. You’ve wanted to see a Garnet Diamond, right? You must be really pleased.”
“Yeah. But how did my Brother manage to acquire this? You can’t find something like this in the Empire…”
Mamela murmured to himself as if talking to the air, gazing at the gem and then holding it up to the chandelier’s light. Beams of colored light radiated from the gem, coloring different corners of the room. I couldn’t resist and eagerly chased after the traces of light that the gem scattered on the floor.
When my front paw touched the shimmering traces of light, my fur also took on a pretty hue. Enchanted by the mystical spectacle, I hopped and skipped around the room. Mamela’s hearty laughter filled the air.
“Jona, look at Aril. So adorable!”
“Maybe the light seems fascinating because Aril is still young. It seems like it wouldn’t even hurt if you got it in your eye.”
“If only the circumstances were different, I would have hired a dedicated painter to capture each detail… It’s such a pity.”
While I was absorbed in the brilliance of the gem, the two of them continued their conversation.
“When Brother returns, I’ll have to thank him. Actually, if I had known we would cross paths earlier, I could have greeted him…”
Suddenly, the gem’s light dimmed. When I looked up, I saw Mamela putting the gem back into the box.
“Ah, I thought I could catch it this time…”
As I had been playing with the light as my target, a sense of regret washed over me. Mamela, unaware of my circumstances, seemed engrossed in conversation with Jona, giving me no attention. I stretched out and turned toward Mamela, lying down by her side. Mamela, as I pressed against her, started petting me familiarly. The satisfaction of her touch gradually eased my excited heart.
* * *
“Aril, how do I look? Neat, right? Not odd?”
Mamela, dressed tidier than usual, stood in front of me with an air of confidence. She seemed to be saying something, but I couldn’t tell what, so I just looked at her curiously. Jona, who stood behind me with a wooden comb in her hand, spoke.
“Miss, don’t worry. You look even more beautiful than usual.”
“Well, that’s good to hear. It’s been so long since I had dinner with Brother, so I’m quite nervous. Sometimes, eating alone like usual seems better.”
“But it’s nice, isn’t it? These days are rare within a month. You’ve always looked forward to it.”
“Well, that’s true.”
Mamela sat down in front of me and stroked my back. Her slow, soothing touch felt pleasant, and when I relaxed, she chuckled. However, today, something about her playful manner felt a bit off. I searched for the reason and realized that Jona, who usually laughed along with Mamela when I acted cute, didn’t seem to have a smile on her lips. After a brief pause, Yona spoke.
“Miss, maybe you could ask Your Grace to spend a bit more time with you. If you earnestly ask, he might…?”
Mamela’s hand that was stroking me stopped. I looked up at her with curiosity. A faint smile was fading from the corners of Mamela’s mouth.
“No, it’s okay. Brother is busy. I don’t want to bother him for no reason.”
“Sometimes, we can be together. I’m not always alone. And now, with Aril here, I’m not as lonely as before.”
Mamela’s expression noticeably stiffened, but she resumed stroking me as if nothing had happened.
‘What’s going on… Mamela seems to be in a bad mood, and the atmosphere feels a bit tense…’
Uncomfortable with the strange silence, I bit into Mamela’s clothing and tugged.
“Huh? You want me to pet your head?”
Mamela shifted her palm to my forehead and quickly lifted the corners of her mouth again. The same person who had been petting me just moments ago now spoke with a cheerful voice.
“Anyway… You know, during dinner with Brother should I mention a bit about Aril?”
At that moment, Jona’s expression changed in an instant. Concerned eyes were replaced by astonishment within a matter of seconds.
…What? What did Mamela say to provoke that reaction?