She had asked so many questions, but it didn’t matter if she said it wasn’t allowed. She just shrugged her shoulders. He nodded as if accepting.
“What kind of books do you like? What tea do you enjoy? What food do you like or dislike, and what flowers do you cherish?”
These were bizarre questions. Since there was no reason not to answer, Parme remembered what Erzetta was like.
“I like all kinds of books. I read more academic works than literature. I enjoy drinking chamomile tea… I don’t like overly sweet food, and my favorite is well-seasoned roasted duck. And I like white anemones and roses of May.”
“The roses of Villa Biale are truly beautiful.”
“We have a skilled gardener.”
Just to be quick in case she asked about books, she added,
“Scholarship is my lifelong passion. So I enjoy sharing it with those close and dear to me.”
“You’re not referring to me, are you?
Angelo smiled mischievously.
“It’s perfectly fine if you don’t make up your mind hastily. I’m just glad to get to know you.”
It was a moment. An inexplicable sense of resistance welled up. Suddenly, the feeling that emerged was vague, and there was no other way but to carefully reexamine his own thoughts one by one.
This is just a very small piece that makes her up. It’s not even the real Erzetta, and he knows nothing about me.
Parme fell silent for a moment, carefully weighing that resentment in her mind. When she had gathered all the pieces that made up what she needed to say, she slowly spoke.
“Can we really say we ‘get to know’ a person with such questions? Is a noblewoman defined by her preferences for tea leaves, flowers, and dinner menus? Well, I’m not sure.”
Parme smiled without showing any emotion.
“I don’t believe your smooth words and charisma, Ligeri, and I’m not impressed.”
If he had thought that a few sweet words and a slick appearance would tarnish my master’s reputation, he was mistaken. Parme issued a warning.
“The notion that you treat here like an inconsequential hand of cards will prevent unnecessary loss of human life. The fate of both nations’ people will depend on the success of this mission. o, take it seriously. Don’t waste time. That’s all I expect from you.”
Only then did Parme realize the identity of the faint discomfort. What he lightly regarded as a shining talent was what Erzetta had desperately wanted above all else. The kind and upright Erzetta. The fairy tale-like queen who loved her people.
To Parme, using such a profound ability as leverage in a mere love affair didn’t sit well. In other words, his claimed passion appeared infinitely shallow when flipped around.
There was no discernible reaction in Angelo’s expression. He seemed lost in thought, maintaining a momentary silence.
he finally said as he placed his art supplies on the table and stood up.
“It seems I’ve given you enough of my time for today. I hope you won’t find it tiresome. I’ll take my leave now.”
He slipped the painting under one arm, approached closer, gave a slight bow and briefly kissed the back of her offered hand, and stepped back.
“Until we meet again, Elio.”
“Have a good day.”
After he left, Erzetta returned to the reception room after a brief delay. Parme greeted her with greater warmth than usual.
“Your Highness, you know, there’s something I haven’t mentioned.”
“To be honest, Levanto is handsome.”
Confusion flickered across Erzetta’s face, but before she could say anything, Parme continued.
“But he’s as bland as a nectarine. Arrogant, annoying, and foolish. It’s fortunate that Your Highness doesn’t have to meet him.”
Parme meant every word.
Several days had passed. Implicitly, they had established a schedule of three times a week for his painting sessions, but they wouldn’t refuse if he were to request an extra session at any time.
Erzetta’s formal schedule, as befitting a high-ranking lady, was leisurely, and everyone on Solle’s side was hoping this unusual and impractical situation would come to an end sooner rather than later. However, he hadn’t visited.
“So, Mother is currently collecting portraits.”
A cheerful and rapid voice continued like the chiming of bells. Erzetta and Parme both listened with contented expressions. Lady Viche lifted a piece of cake adorned with fresh fruit, took a bite, and continued speaking.
“I don’t know who the candidates might be, but I hope they won’t be provincial nobles. Then I’d have to leave home and live far away. Even now, I don’t get to see sister often, and if that happens, I might forget her face.”
“Do you think I’d forget your face?”
“Not my sister, but me! I don’t have a memory as good as my sister’s.”
The three of them sat around a tea table in the courtyard. Instead of withered roses, the garden bushes were adorned with clusters of pale pink hydrangea blooms, and the leaves, bathed in sunlight, had turned a vibrant green. Among the gracefully sculpted branches, the sweet fragrance of fruit tea wafted through the dense greenery of the beautiful garden..
Though their personalities and appearances were not very alike, the sisters got along well. Despite having very different interests and topics of conversation, Viche thoroughly enjoyed her time with Erzetta. She had been preoccupied with many things lately and hadn’t shown her face outside often, so her invitation to share tea was a pleasant surprise.
“Well, if my sister were to leave for Levanto, that would truly be inevitable,”
Viche remarked, growing somewhat gloomy.
Parme whispered quietly to the suddenly downcast Viche,
“This is a secret, but it’s not necessarily the case.”
Her hazel eyes quickly lit up with joy. Erzetta glanced briefly at Parme but didn’t scold or object. Viche possessed a sincere and deep warmth. If you called it a secret, she would keep it as a secret.
She moved a cookie onto Parme’s saucer. It was a caramel-scented, salty biscuit that Erzetta enjoyed. Despite joining in for tea time at the sisters’ insistence and encouragement, Parme hardly ever indulged in snacks.
Viche was that kind of girl who paid delicate attention and care. Even without any outstanding qualities, everyone loved her.
“Anyway, it would be nice if he were a knight.”
“In times like these, with war being rare, it’s just a nominal title.”
“But it still sounds impressive. I’d like to call him ‘Sir.'”
“Like the princess in the songs of Sir Aldero?”
Viche nodded enthusiastically.
“That’s right! By the way, it’s been a while since I heard Parme sing. I’d love it if you could sing for us.”
“It doesn’t have to be right now, but anytime is fine because it’s you. Will you sing for us?”
“Of course. It’s an honor, my lady.”
“I’m excited! How are you so good at singing? I wish I could do that too.”
“Your voice is much more beautiful, my lady. You’re as lovely as a nightingale even without any artifice, so don’t worry.”
“Oh, don’t flatter me too much. I might start believing it.”
Three carefree and joyous laughter blended together without a care in the world. It happened while Biche, sitting back comfortably, was about to finish off the remaining cake.
“Isn’t that Lord Phevan over there?”
Erzetta pointed beyond the garden. In the distance, someone dressed in dark-colored clothing hurriedly passed by the colonnades of the second-floor gallery, supported by pillars. They were heading towards the main building.
“I’m not sure, but it seems like someone from the Tower of Wisdom. They’re wearing a robe.”
“Do they have something to report to Father?”
Satisfied with that explanation, Erzetta took another sip of her tea. Viche quickly continued with another topic of conversation.
“Last time, the palace musician Saltovalle…”
After finishing their tea, on their way back to the residence, Erzetta suddenly stopped in her tracks.
“I wonder what report has come from the Academy? I should visit Father to find out.”
“Of course. I’ll wait outside.”
While the audience took place, Parme stood in the spacious hallway.
Counting the patterns on the thick, soft carpet with her eyes, a few minutes passed. Erzetta returned with a thoughtful expression, and they silently walked back to her room together.
“Lord Levanto came and went.”
Parme paused her brushing at the sound of her voice. In the mirror, he could see Erzetta and her reflection.
As she continued to comb her soft black hair, Parme asked.
“Well… in simple terms, he gave a progress report. He explained to Pevan how the steam-powered machinery works in terms of its structure and principles. Pevan is considering the design of the entire apparatus to efficiently extract the necessary power for digging as deep as required.”
“Anyway, he’s working hard, isn’t he?”
“And he’s more cooperative than expected. He shared the most crucial technology with our Academy. It might take some time in case of unforeseen circumstances, but even if Lord Levanto withdraws from this project, Pevan and the other engineers might still be able to complete the equipment.”
She meticulously braided the hair, which fell down to her waist, and tied it with a ribbon. When she raised her head, her gaze met her reflection in the mirror.
“Are you saying it’s like a chef freely sharing their secret recipe?”
Now Parme, too, was lost in thought. This situation felt like… as if he were consciously trying to prove his sincerity after what she blurted out yesterday. Of course, it had nothing to do with him and could be a mere whim.
Yet somehow, her heart felt uneasy.
For a moment, even unwelcome thoughts crept in, and Parme panicked. On the off chance that he was sincere, it was pitiful how he was pouring effort into a hopeless situation with no reservations.