It was a pure white eagle with piercing violet eyes.
My hair stood on end in surprise at the sudden appearance of the eagle, but Killian picked me up, not looking the least bit alarmed, and walked over to the window where the eagle had tapped.
As he pushed the pane open, the eagle folded its massive wings in half and gripped the window frame with its frighteningly curved talons.
The eagle tilted his head, The face resembling a violet buried in the snow, watching me intently.
“Hard to see you again today, I see.”
Killian said, leaning toward the eagle.
Who was he talking about?
Just then, the eagle’s head snapped down to me, and I gasped and burrowed into Killian’s jacket.
I could feel Killian’s crooked smile against my chest.
Killian soothed me and untied the ribbon from the eagle’s feet.
“I see you sent a letter, so it’s clear I’m not going to see you.”
In a soothing tone, he unfolded the curled paper.
It was a letter from the Empress Elyse.
「My dear son, Killian.
I must beg your pardon for coming to Tennessee on such short notice, and for sending my greetings by letter.
We were supposed to see each other today, but I didn’t remember until this morning.
I have sent Michio, and he will be glad to see you. He flapped his wings like a little bird at the thought of seeing you.
I have come to Tennessee to recuperate, but you don’t have to worry about my health.
Rather than thinking of your mother, I urge you to remember your duty as the Sun of Huppert and focus on your duties as a monarch.
All I pray for is peace in this empire and your tomorrow that will bring that peace.
Always remain centered, and do your best to fulfill your responsibilities and duties.
Coming here makes me feel at ease and I can take a break.
I regret we didn’t see each other today, but I look forward to the day we will meet again.
I love you, wherever you are.
From Elyse, who prays for you.」
The shadows beneath his eyelids were still.
I wondered if it was his mother.
The letter was written with affection, but the overly casual tone made me feel a little sad.
I studied Killian’s complexion as I read the words, which maintained a calm dignity over the regret of not seeing her.
Killian rolled the letter back up into a thin sheet and held it for a moment.
A puddle of regret and bitterness seemed to pool on his thumb as he ran it across the white paper.
Killian murmured, walking to his desk and slipping the letter into a drawer.
Nineteen-year-old Killian’s lips remained stubbornly pursed as silence concealed the amplitude of his unspeakable emotions.
I lowered my gaze to the road, embarrassed to see him dressed more formally than usual.
“It’s been a while, Michio. Hasn’t it?”
His red lips parted, and he smirked and patted the eagle’s head.
I recognized the name of the eagle in the letter Michio.
I could see the eagle’s eyes closing slightly as he lowered his head and accepted the crown prince’s touch.
An eagle listens so well?
My mouth dropped open slightly at the sight.
Killian handed the meat and water to Michio, who had flown a long way.
Michio swallowed the large steak and parchment-dried poached dover sole in the blink of an eye and took a long drink of the water he offered.
Judging by the letter, Michio was a close bird of the Empress Elysees, and apparently special to Killian.
In the original story, Empress Elyse was a mother figure to Killian, someone he missed, someone who neglected him.
Despite doing everything his mother asked of him, Killian couldn’t understand why she didn’t take care of him.
It was because of her that he stopped walking her.
Still, Killian cherished everything about his mother.
Including the female lead who would later appear before him.
My eyes locked with Michio, who was suddenly looking down at me.
His violet eyes, which resembled irises, glistened with a smooth shine, their natural whiteness reflecting in the sun.
Empress Elyse had a smile as gentle and pale as a daffodil, but her body was as frail as her temperature, and she was said to need frequent nursing.
I can’t believe that the owner who tamed such a strong yet handsome eagle had a soft personality.
After seeing Michio, who is not mentioned in the original story, I could not easily picture Empress Elyse in my mind.
I looked up at Killian as he fed Michio another piece of meat.
He’s treating him with an impassive face as if he’s expected this, but I feel sorry for him, his disheveled cravat and carefully chosen jacket shining through the colorful epaulettes.
After finishing his meal, Michio spreads his wings and floats off into thin air.
His white head ruffled slightly as if he was ready to go, and then he soared, clearly a different kind of eagle.
I watched in fascination as he soared, and then felt Killian’s fingers close my gaping mouth.
“You’re going to fall.”
He reached the window and closed it.
In the reflection of the closed pane of glass, Killian’s face seems even more submerged in darkness than before.
I glance back at Killian, who hasn’t moved away from the window.
Michio has flown off into the distance, disappearing into a tiny dot.
I wonder if the Empress knows.
That her son was being abused by his father and those who serve him.
That he resented his mother for not seeing him often enough, but looked forward to the day he would eventually see her.
Stifling the disappointment that rose to the back of his throat, Killian’s emotionless face turned away from the window.
“I’ll be back.”
Something about the Empress Elyse’s biography bothered me about Killian standing here in this vast castle without a single ally.
Of course, if Killian knew my true feelings, he might laugh at me, saying who cares about whom…….
I patted his hand with my front paw as if to say goodbye to him.
Killian’s eyes suddenly darkened as he stared down at me.
I patted the back of his hand once more.
Killian’s mouth, which he was trying to cover up with a laugh, quietly fell.
A heavy silence settled over his eyes, the languid smile of freedom gone.
He stared at me for what felt like an eternity before the corner of his mouth twitched upward.
“I’ll be right back.”
* * *
I wonder what he means.
The sound of countless footsteps moving in closely together.
The swish of a dress hem.
Strange. I’ve never heard such a bustle and such strange noises on the fourth floor, where the crown prince resides.
Sprawled across the table, I instinctively scramble to my feet.
– Move, move, move.
The voice from across the hall was unmistakably Madame Gisela.
What is she doing here?
I quickly climbed down from the table, onto the cushions and chair, and got under the bed.
The moment I lowered myself behind the post,
The door opened and five colorful dresses, presumably belonging to noblewomen, entered, their skirts hanging down.
“Find me anything that will hold a pod.”
Unlike the other hesitant ladies, the woman in the wine-colored dress ordered as she strode through the bedroom.
“Hurry. We’re running out of time, and with the way the crown prince is, he won’t be long with the Levern Envoy.”
The view blocked by the bed was limited to their skirts, but there was only one woman in the palace who could stomp on the carpet in expensive silks and jeweled shoes and act like she owned it.
Catherine Harman Gisela.
Even Lady Gisela, with the Emperor’s protection at her back, could barge into the crown prince’s bedroom and rummage around like this?
There was not the slightest trace of the rigid air of the woman who had paused for a moment after their meeting in the library.
It was as if she had been sharpened by the crown prince’s unexpected behavior.
“I’m told he went to a boutique, so it must have something to do with a woman. You must find her.”
When Count Duchsen’s son, Harrid, had instructed him to erase the memories of his users, Killian had said that he didn’t need to touch the memories of going to the boutique.
The reasoning was that on a long carriage ride, you need a place to pass the time, and a boutique could easily be mistaken for a place to meet a woman and buy her a dress or a gift.
If users remembered that he had spent time in a boutique, they might assume that the prince had escaped from the boutique, out of sight of users, to meet a lady.
One of the ladies, who had been scanning the tables, sofas, and armchairs, spoke up cautiously.
“If His Majesty is seeing a woman, we can make a big deal out of it, can we? It’s just a matter of saying something that will backfire……”
“Lady Annalise. Did I ever give you permission to think?”
Lady Gisela stepped in front of the bewildered Annalise.
“I’m asking you because I want to know why you’re wasting your scarce time doing something called thinking when all you have to do is do what you’re told. Did I ask you to reconsider what I just said?”
Her tone was fierce, sucking all the energy out of him.
“I doubt the woman he’s seeing is of noble birth. If she was, she would have been invited to this palace for tea and a stroll. It was in a boutique in town where he met a girl, and how else can you explain that unless she was a girl he couldn’t meet in public!”
They all took a deep breath as if to regain their composure at Mrs. Gisela’s words.
I was conscious of the creepy feeling in my stomach as I watched the women and Mrs. Gisela begin to search the bed, the drawers, and everywhere else.
As I listened to Gisela’s nervous ramblings, I realized that she was not one to run without looking back.
It was clear that, like Emperor Adolf, she was the eyes and ears of many in the imperial household, keeping them informed of the crown prince’s every move.
But it wasn’t as if Killian hadn’t been out of his bedroom since his trip to Crow Town.
So why today?
She must have waited with bated breath for a report of his visit to the boutique that Emperor Adolf would have dismissed out of hand, deciding that it would be a weakness.
Until she needed to use it.
She must have felt her own anger that the crown prince she’d met in the imperial library hadn’t bent to her will and embarrassed her.
If he had come to visit while she was away to make an example of him, the report would explain his absence until now.
The noble ladies who assisted her were seen looking dumbly, gritting their teeth, and looking for her in extremely cumbersome dresses.
Scowling, Lady Gisela kicked at the cushions Killian had dropped everywhere for me.
“Well, if she’s a lousy wench, she’s quite welcome on my part, and since no one else in this castle will take her side, I’ll offer to sponsor her, and she can cook the crown prince through her, how’s that for a deal?”
She huffed and puffed and made a gesture of blowing her nails, then laughed a childlike, innocent laugh.
Just then, an elderly lady approached Killian’s desk.
It held a letter from Killian’s mother, Empress Elyse.