She and the Shopkeeper
The Royal Capital of Wilhelm encircles the Royal Castle.
The Royal Castle has gates in the four cardinal directions, the layout is that if you follow the wide straight paved road that stretches out from each of them, you’ll arrive at the respective east, west, south, and north inner gates.
There’s a considerable distance from the Royal Castle to the inner gates, residences lined up between them all have imposing gates.
The section until the inner gates is only for the nobles with court rank of marquis and above, it’s a special area where no one but those who hold important positions can live.
It’s a symbol of status for nobles to be allowed to have a private residence in this location. Of course, as a duke, and also the Prime Minister, Father has been granted a residence in the best location in the inner gate section. He spends more time there than in the main residence in the territory, for me it’s rather the main residence.
Following the main street past the inner gates, there’s the so called noble district. It’s the section where nobles with the rank of count and below live.
Advancing further down the street are middle gates. If you pass through them, unguarded at daytime, you’ll finally arrive in the castle town.
After an exhausting journey, we alighted from the carriage.
We stopped a little distance before the middle gate, out of consideration to be as inconspicuous as possible. Without really being questioned by anybody we uneventfully passed through the middle gate. This gate is the southern middle gate. It’s the most bustling area in the castle town. It’s also the closest from where I live, so it’s where I often show up. I’ve never approached the areas around the gates to the north.
“This is where Lidi always goes, right?”
I nodded to Freed’s words as he walked next to me.
“It’s the only one within walking distance of my house. I’m interested in the western area due to many beautiful craftsman shops. I’ve never gone there though. Freed, you?”
“I’ve been to all during the inspections. Actually, it’s been a long time since I was in this southern area. It’s been over two years since I’ve come to inspect here”
Such a handsome man walking around would absolutely create rumors.
Yet I’ve never heard them when going to town, so that’s why. Naturally if it’s been over two years, I wouldn’t hear them.
“How nice. But the distance from the Royal Castle to every gate is similar. Why did we come here this time?”
When I heard of going to town, only this place went through my mind. But if you think about it, there are three other gates to the north, east, and west. Ultimately there’s no particular problem with having inspection in the south side this time, but I was afraid he was under a wrong impression.
“Well, nothing much. There’s a place I want to inspect. But, we can leave that for the end. At first, it’s fine to go where Lidi wants to”
“Is it? Then, first I want to go to the cake shop. Thanks to the certain someone I’m hungry”
When I glared at him, saying that it’s fine Freed narrowed his eyes.
I reflexively averted my gaze from his face that seemed to say that he can’t help but love me.
“Nothing, it just feels like a dream to have a date with my beloved like this. A little while ago I didn’t think I could love somebody”
“… H, hmph”
“Lidi is my first love”
Tightly grasping my hand Freed said so.
“First and last. That’s why I’ll never let you go. I cannot imagine world without Lidi anymore”
I wish the wedding would come soon – as Freed said that in a gentle voice, I hung my head.
… I too feel like that.
It doesn’t matter whether I love him, I can’t imagine not having Freed at my side anymore. That I hated it so much feels like a lie.
“That’s why… If possible, I’d be happy if Lidi felt the same”
Freed stopped in his track and looked at me. As I raised my face, I was about to unconsciously leak the words… But I endured. And said in a small voice.
“I see… It’s still no good”
When I asked back, unable to pick up what he whispered, saying it’s nothing he stroked my hair.
“Now then, let’s go. You’ll show me around, right?”
When Freed returned to his usual voice, I nodded, and while stammering began walking.
I know the place, so I won’t get lost. While we were heading straight to our destination, I recognized the face of a woman walking from the other direction. Bad. Isn’t she the shop manager of the spice shop.
Recognizing me, she talked to me with a smile.
“Oh? If it isn’t Lidi. Long time no see, dear”
“Good day. It’s been a long time”
It can’t be helped now that she found out. I greeted her amiably.
She looks around 40 and has a slightly round figure, ever since I made curry two years ago, I’ve been much obliged to her.
Is Freed next to me an acquaintance? Seeing her eyes ask that I nodded.
“I haven’t seen you much recently. Will you offer your patronage again?”
“Y… yes, I will”
Even though I answered with a smile, in my mind I was profusely sweating.
So far the words hinting at curry haven’t come out yet. I didn’t want it leaked to Freed in a place like this, so I gave it my all to the conversation with the shop manager.
But such worries ended up unnecessary. That’s because her attention switched to Freed who I was holding hands with.
“Oh? Lidi dear, aren’t you with a considerably good man today. It’s a different man than the one I’ve seen you with a few times before, did you break up with him? I think you were well-matched”
In an instant, a displeased aura leaked from Freed next to me.
The previous man the shop manager is talking about is probably Will. I’ve asked Will to accompany me at shopping several times, that’s when she witnessed us.
“It… it’s different. We weren’t like that”
When I frantically denied, the shop manager opened her eyes wide in surprise.
“Is that so? You have good looks, so you must be very popular. If you like, I’d like you to be my son’s bride”
The talk drifted into an incomprehensible direction. The shop manager son is that playboy profligate son. Who’d want to be his bride. Or rather, I’m already…
“… I’m sorry, she’s already sold”
“Oh, is that so?”
Freed directly joined the conversation. While tightly grasping my hand, he informed the shop manager.
“Yeah, she’s my fiancée. We already have plans for the wedding ceremony, so please give up”
As Freed announced that with a broad smile, I froze.
Please stop. This manager is a very good person, but she has an extremely loose tongue. In the worst case, the rumor will spread before the day is over. Sure enough, I felt her eyes light up.
“What a shame. I wanted you as my daughter-in-law. I thought if it’s you Lidi-chan, you could reform my foolish son, but it can’t be helped, can it… You, you might be a very handsome man, but don’t go around fooling with other women and making Lidi-chan sad”
“Of course. She’s the only one I’m devoted to”
As Freed resolutely said that, the shop manager nodded, impressed.
“You said it clearly. Isn’t it great, Lidi-chan. Looks like this handsome man is immensely in love with you”
“Is he a nobleman? Lidi-chan, I think it’ll be hard for you if the status difference is too big…”
In this area, the only ones who know my identity are the cooks in the restaurant.
Every other resident thinks I’m a well-raised town girl living a short distance away who occasionally helps at the restaurant.
That’s why I was worried to be seen with Freed. Still, I was happy about her honest feelings.
Besides, exactly as she said, our social status is different. Because he’s royalty.
“… Thank you. But, it’s already decided”
“I think you’ll manage, Lidi-chan, still I’m worried. You, what’s your name?”
“Excuse me for saying it late. I am Apollo”
As he smoothly told a lie, I puffed. Rather, Apollo… Certainly, that’s what I called him when he had black hair.
Inevitably remembering the masquerade ball, my feelings became complicated.
“You’re a noble heir or something? Don’t give Lidi-chan hardships. This child is a little careless, but she’s a very good girl”
“Yeah, I know that. It’s hard to just bring up the name of my house, but even so everybody there welcomes her. Besides, no matter what happens I’ll protect her”
My face grew hot from the words Freed declared. I can’t help but be embarrassed. I’m fine even if you don’t protect me! Normally here I’d take a stand like that, but the feeling of happiness was stronger.
I wonder why. Isn’t stuff like this foul play.
When I turned my face away feeling uncomfortable, looking at me the shop manager laughed with satisfaction.
“What. I worried for nothing. Congratulations, Lidi-chan. Will you invite me to the ceremony?”
What should I say. While I was troubled, Freed answered in my stead.
“There will be something like a debut where everybody can participate, feel free to come there. Unfortunately, I believe it’d be difficult for you to participate in the ceremony. Even with only those concerned there will be a large number of people”
That’s one way to put it.
I spontaneously applauded his superb wording in my mind.
Yup, there’s no lie anywhere.
Debut… That’s the parade through the town after the wedding ceremony is over. It’s the torture where you have to be exposed to public humiliation.
And those concerned.
That’s that. Foreign royalty, country leaders, it’s a gathering of such people.
Recalling that part of the wedding ceremony, my look turned distant.
Uwaa, after all I hate it.
I thought I had accepted my fate, but suddenly I wanted to abandon everything.
As a dry laughter about the upcoming ceremony escaped me, with mmhm the manager spoke as if convinced.
“I see. Then it can’t be helped. But I have no complaints if I can celebrate it. I’m looking forward to it”
“Yeah, please do celebrate at that time”
“Sorry for getting in the way of your day. See you, Lidi-chan. Please come to the shop again”
“Ye, yes. Of course I will come”
I’ll be waiting! With these words the manager left.
Seeing her off, I let out a large sigh.
… I’m exhausted.
Called by Freed, I raised my face. His face looks… strangely angry.
When I tilted my head, not understanding the reason, Freed tightly grasped my hand he was holding and said with a smile.
“You were going to town with Will before me. I didn’t know”
… He didn’t forget!
My cheeks twitched from his pressure. What’s this. Am I at fault?
“No, after all it’s a story from before I met Freed…”
When I made excuse in confusion, Freed let out a small breath. Then, ruffled my hair.
I could tell I got unusually irritated by his rare gesture.
“I know that. Still, every time I hear a story like that, regret over not meeting Lidi sooner tortures me… If I just saw you once, I’d never let you go”
“… That’s a little”
As Freed muttered the regretful words, I drew a step back. Freed didn’t allow it, on the contrary he pulled me to himself. The turquoise blue penetrated me.
“Sorry, but I think so even now. I have no intention of letting Lidi go, even if it meant being hated… Scared?”
I slowly shook my head.
I wouldn’t want it if it came from somebody else, but if it’s from Freed, I don’t mind. Or rather, I might be a little happy he wants me so much.
That’s why I said.
“… I think I’m probably happy”
I can’t say that I love him yet, but this much should be fine.
As soon as I said that thinking so, Freed tightly hugged me.
Realizing we’re right in the middle of town, I hit his back in panic.
“Hey, not here! Outside, we’re outside!!”
“I know. But, being told that I can’t stay still”
Tightly hugging me, Freed whispered to me in a voice overcome with emotion.
“Really, I want to quickly get married and monopolize Lidi both in name and reality. Prepare for the bridal night. I don’t intend to finish it so simply”
“Idiot… You’re being hasty…”
Saying that, I buried my face in his chest.
Bridal night… It’s late to think that, but if things don’t go well it really might not end at one night.
Troubled, I lowered my eyebrows, still I didn’t find it unpleasant.