No, Parme turned her head sideways. Why should I bother about your affairs? In old sayings, it was said that a man who’s fooled twice is at fault.”
“Are you okay?”
Erzeta asked with a curious tone. Parme suddenly came to her senses and smiled feebly.
“Oh, yes. I’m just a bit tired, I guess.”
“I’ll be reading a book until I leave, so feel free to rest.”
“Here?! I might get cut here.”
“I’m not cutting it, so who will?”
She pushed the rocking chair herself and piled up a tower of soft cushions. Parme decided to indulge himself for just today.
Family gatherings for dinner were a universal tradition. However, due to Erzetta’s personality of having to finish what she started, it was common for something to come up, and she would often miss meal times.
Despite this, she decided to make a promise to herself because she felt that she should at least show some commitment. The commitment was to attend at least once a week.
In the dining room, with its high ceiling and harmonious decoration, the five family members took their seats. Estone, the Duke, and Milena, the Duchess, sat at the head of the long table. On the Duke’s side, the youngest son, Fontano, sat, while on the Duchess’s side, Erzetta and Viche were seated.
Maids and servants bustled about, bringing dishes from the kitchen. Parme also managed to squeeze in and help during the busy moments.
In truth, Parme found it preferable when Erzetta skipped dinner gatherings. Unlike the simple meals in their chambers, these dinners were long affairs, and the waiting servants stood tirelessly throughout, which Parme found quite tiresome. There was no room for idleness or distraction. One had to be vigilant, making sure the host’s glass wasn’t empty, dishes were promptly cleared, and guests were satisfied with their distant courses.
The food on the table was nearly gone, and the conversation had now shifted to the music. As someone approached Erzetta’s glass to pour wine, Parme unexpectedly heard her name.
“Erzetta’s maid, Parme, sings very well.”
Parme almost exclaimed but managed to swallow it down. Several pairs of eyes turned toward her. Parme forced a smile as best she could, feeling her cheeks flush. Viche spoke again, affectionately.
“She has the bloodline of troubadours on her paternal side, you know.”
Her father used to wander the taverns and market squares, plucking lutes, playing the tambourine, and occasionally singing as a street musician. One day, as a joke, he had claimed to be from a long line of troubadours, and the story had stuck. I never dreamed that I would return with my life on the line.
“Interesting story. How come you’re so deeply into it with such a rare talent?”
Milena spoke as she fiddled with the firewood,
“I personally prefer songs with words over music.”
Ten-year-old Fontano innocently chimed in,
“How about playing a song for us?”
Erzetta gave him an embarrassed glance, but the rest of the family seemed quite enthusiastic.
“How about we listen to one song after finishing the meal?”
Suddenly, Viche sought permission from the Duke. No, ask me, not him! Parme had always dreamt of the honor of saying that whenever she wanted, but she never imagined such a situation. Standing there, feeling betrayed, she heard a concise answer.
“If you insist so much… Well, I suppose I’m curious. Show us what you’ve got.”
Parme spread the edges of her skirt with both hands and bowed hr head. When she flashed a somewhat menacing smile toward Lady Viche, her affectionate gaze returned. Damn it…
“Do you have a particular song in mind?”
Parme’s voice came out steady, without a quiver. Viche made a quick decision.
“I’d like to request ‘Rauland’s Wanderings,’ please.”
It was a widely known folk song from the eastern regions of the continent, and anyone could easily recall the lyrics..
Parme exchanged a glance with the musician and they both nodded lightly. A brief prelude began, and Parme took a quiet breath.
Parme exchanged a brief nod with the musician and took a deep breath as a short prelude began. Then, the first notes, slightly higher in range, burst forth with enthusiasm.
“Here, wandering Valentine, the wandering knight,
Whose heart was bound to Roland’s maiden fair,
Oh, your eyes, they captured the starlight,
And when you smile, my heart turns into gold.
Halt, O sun, and let my eyes catch fire,
With sapphire and ruby, gold, and the moon’s entire.
All the world’s shining, but it pales, it’s true,
For she’s the queen of all that’s fair and new.
Here, wandering Valentine, the blind and kind,
He gave his heart to the shepherd maiden in mind.
My blood, my flesh, my soul, all are thine,
Take them, or place them at your shrine.
Love, love, love, lost and found, love divine.”
The accompaniment gradually faded, ending with a smoothly resolved final chord, and silence followed.
Parme controlled his breath, not making a sound. First, Viche applauded, and polite applause followed. It was then concluded with a courteous bow.
“You have great talent. Your emotions are rich, and your voice is pure. With some refinement, you could certainly make a career out of it. Isn’t this the child Erzetta brought to us some time ago?” the Duke inquired.
“Yes, Your Grace,” Parme replied to Milena’s question, and the Duke sent an interested glance his way.
“So, are you the one who used your talents for the benefit of the young lady this time?”
He asked, and Parme responded with a respectful nod. The Duke’s expression noticeably softened in acknowledgment.
“Truly impressive. You’re intelligent and talented, so Erzetta indeed has an eye for people. In the future, take good care of my daughter. Furthermore, if you ever encounter any difficulties, don’t hesitate to inform Erzetta. She will assist you wholeheartedly.”
“I am most grateful, Your Grace,”
Parme replied, Parme bowed deeply and withdrew to her place. It had been easy to be bold when she was performing, but now her heart raced.
And her mood had shifted.
“Whatever difficulties you encounter, she will assist you wholeheartedly.” Anything, wholeheartedly. Even if it later turned out to be an empty promise, at that moment, it was a statement that filled her heart with emotion.
Parme had clearly left a favorable impression on the Duchess as well with her singing. It seemed like her emotions were effortlessly conveyed, and her performance appeared better than her usual skills. As she pondered this, her joy suddenly came to a halt. Why had her emotions been so easily expressed?
Parme held her breath. While singing, a face that had disappeared for a while came to mind, and she thought about the man who had recently been a frequent presence in her life. It wasn’t that she had sung a love song dedicated to him—definitely not. However, when singing the tale of a blind man who gave his heart to a humble woman, that man had come to mind.
She came from humble origins, and he was so blinded by lies and deceit that he poured out his sincerity. No, no, that’s not it. Parme denied it again. Who knows if it’s sincere or not? How can anyone know what kind of ulterior motives might be at play?
Her thoughts spun in circles. As she reached the point where portrait work was scheduled for the next day, an urge not to meet him welled up within her. Even as she thought this, time continued its steady flow toward the next day.
“…Erzetta, my lady.”
Parme remained unresponsive.
Only on the second call did she snap out of her daze and focus her gaze. The lord was standing there.
“I hope I’m not using an impolite form of address? If so, I’ll be more careful in the future.”
It wasn’t that, it was a misunderstanding, but she couldn’t explain. she simply let it go as a misconception. Without responding, she continued to stare, leaving Angelo looking perplexed.
“From earlier… You’ve been watching me so closely. Is there something that has displeased you?”
Her voice broke. Damn it, Parme’s ears turned slightly red. she cleared her throat a couple of times and then asked in response.”Did I do that?”
“Yes, you did. I’m relieved it wasn’t out of anger, but…”
“I’m not angry.”
Angelo returned his gaze to the paper, the sound of the pen scratching against it filling the air. While listening to the lines being drawn, Parme intentionally looked into the distance.
Until being pointed out, she hadn’t even been aware of her intent gaze. Perhaps it was better to consider it fortunate that her intense staring was interpreted as being watchful. she was unaware of her actions, but she knew why she had done it. She had been curiously observing, trying to figure out if the man was sincere.
Angelo, who had been concentrating on his drawing for a while, let out a sigh that sounded like a groan. Parme’s attention was drawn to this.
“…Is it because of the technical assistance I provided to the Academy?”
Although Parme didn’t answer, she felt a pang of guilt. Whether it was visible on her face or Angelo was astute at reading him. Angelo continued as if he had received an answer.
“It seemed like that was what you desired. It was something I did to bring you joy, to dedicate to you. But instead, you…”
“I said I’m not angry.”
Parme interrupted, her tone stronger than intended. Angelo now appeared almost perplexed.
He had been speculating and contemplating, but suddenly he seemed to realize something. His face, once clouded with worry, now appeared as innocent as the sky after a rain shower, as if the doubts had cleared away.
“Could it be that your heart has been moved? Are you looking at me differently than before?”
Parme’s quiet, ashen eyes stirred with emotional intensity.
“Have you been looking at me because you missed me?”
He shouted it like a scream and quickly continued to explain,
“I… well, I was just curious about your true feelings. Yes, that’s it. I still can’t trust you completely. I wanted to know why you’re going to such lengths, and without realizing it, I…”
“You were staring at me.”
Angelo, who finished the sentence instead, chuckled slowly. It was as if the petals of a white magnolia were unfurling. In an instant, the atmosphere brightened. Parme, once again, found herself bewildered and had to avert her gaze.