Dokuhakihime to Hoshi no Ishi: Chapter 3
Credits and Translator's Notice:
Chapter 3: Dinner and Chalices
On the table, all kinds of silverware were neatly laid out. A basket was filled with warm bread.
There was clear soup and an array of delicious dishes.
Elsa swallowed her drool as she looked at this table.
Originally, this banquet had been laid out for only Claudius and herself to enjoy. The dining table seemed too long for just the two of them, and trained waitresses stood on the side.
The Holy Knight Ann Duke was still worried about the two of them, and after whispering something in Claudius's ear, he left the room.
Although Ann Duke and Claudius's secretive discussion potentially had something to do with her, Elsa couldn’t care less, as she was preoccupied with the luxurious dinner in front of her eyes.
(If you became a princess, you'll never be hungry.)
The Seers had once told Elsa that.
It was such an infuriating thing to say.
It was hardly persuasive, because they had never known what it was like to starve.
They simply didn't know how miserable hunger really was.
(Please learn some etiquette befitting a princess.)
The Seers had said. They treated her like training an animal, forcing her to learn royal etiquette, threatening her with things like 'If you don't use proper etiquette, you aren't going to eat.'
Thanks to their training, Elsa learned royal etiquette and the proper way to eat a meal without much difficulty.
(Well fuck that!)
However, she had no intent to continue practicing that ritual.
Gripping her fork like a stake, she stabbed at pieces of meat and brought them directly to her mouth, tearing off chunks with her teeth.
Elsa licked her fingers, grabbed the plate with the bowl of soup, gulped it down and moved on to stuff her mouth with bread.
Elsa was aware that the people were shocked speechless about her behavior, but she had no intention of stopping. She didn't want to stop, and she didn't think she could stop. Elsa only cared about satisfying her tastebuds and her stomach, and she continued to chew.
Somehow this warm meal was capable of stimulating the hunger that she had felt since her childhood years. For no good reason, her emotional state had become a mess, and tears nearly started flowing. As if to swallow back those tears, Elsa drank more soup, and guzzled it down.
Claudius, also astonished by Elsa's behavior, stared blankly at her. Elsa fiercely glared back at his murky eyes, as she spat out a small bone.
Did he find her disgusting? Or was he so shocked that he became dumb?
No matter his reaction, she was ready to laugh at him.
However contrary to her expections, Claudius just smiled gently. It wasn't a mocking smile, but rather one like he was remembering some nostalgic memory. While reminiscing, he smiled tenderly.
Then, he spoke. However he did not address Elsa, but rather the waitress that was standing beside him:
"When Mii first came here, she was like this too, right?"
This sentence had a dramatic effect.
The faces of the waitresses who were previously confused and overwhelmed suddenly lit up. They each started to move. Some prepared steamed towels, some laid a napkin across Elsa's lap, and others cleaned the floor. Elsa was puzzled by their skillful actions.
"What's... what's going on?!"
"No, no, keep on eating, it's not important."
Then the Prince, who had still not begun to dine, smiled at Elsa and asked:
"It's good that you have an appetite. Is it good? How do they season the food in your country?"
Elsa smirked as she gave a laugh. Tomato and gooseberry sauce had stained the area around her mouth, like a cannibal dyed in blood.
"If there's salt then it's a lucky day."
In response to these words, Claudius wanted to say something, but before he could open his mouth, a waitress brought her napkin to Elsa, intending to wipe her mouth.
"Don't touch me!"
Elsa immediately brushed away the waitress's hand, and the waitress promptly begged forgiveness:
The waitress bowed her head. Elsa had the sudden feeling that she had somehow become the villain, and she felt very ashamed.
She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and put forth a few words:
"What kinda messed up country is this?"
Claudius seemed to think Elsa had a point in her remark. He lowered his eyebrows and spoke:
"You're right. We receive guests of all cultures, so we shouldn't impose our values on others."
"Do you always eat like that?"
Elsa said sarcastically; Claudius was surprised and speechless for a moment, then he lowered his eyes and nodded.
His movements were slow and his table manners were perfect. With practiced precision, he manipulated his knife and fork.
"It's probably... because I'm used to it."
Hearing his response, Elsa was even more surprised. Leaning her elbows on the table and propping up her head, she sighed ruefully and spoke:
"You sound disgusted."
Listening to her sarcastic but truthful remarks, Claudius was amused. He then asked her in a fully natural tone:
"Want something to drink?"
"Water is good."
As long as it isn't mud, Elsa thought, anything is fine.
Claudius nodded his head and said:
"Well, we'll have them get some water for us. I want to chat with you a bit."
At this point, Elsa raised her eyebrows. She remembered the situation she was in.
"Didn't you hear me earlier? I said I wanted out!"
"There's no need to be anxious."
Facing Elsa, Claudius continued to explain with his calm and gentle tone as before.
"I'm not locking you up. But if you leave right now, it's late in the night and it's dangerous. This place is near the Forest of Night."
Elsa nodded, and she looked at Claudius doubtfully with her red pupils. However, Claudius smiled in response to her stern gaze and recommended:
"We should let them bring dessert."
Elsa pointed her silver fork at Claudius and spoke:
"If you think you'll be able to trick me every time with food, you're gonna be seriously disappointed."
Although her voice was resolute, her mouth was was smeared with leftovers and sauces, so it was hardly convincing.
Claudius just smiled quietly.
The stove's fire was very weak.
Elsa got up from her chair and went to the stove. She draped a thick blanket from the sofa over herself, hugging her knees as she sat there. It was a quilt that was bigger and felt different than any she had seen before.
As Claudius asked, he gestured at the waitresses to leave them alone. Instead of bringing water, they had brought rather warm cocoa and baked cookies.
"I'm not cold."
Elsa responded succinctly as she pulled the quilt higher up on her trembling shoulders. Even if the stove was not on, it was still very warm in this spacious room, and Elsa held her knees motionlessly. Even now, she was still more of a wild untamable animal.
Claudius brought his own chair nearby and sat down, cautiously maintaining his distance.
They remained silent. Claudius seemed to search for words, and his gaze quietly wandered. Before long, Elsa's hand slowly extended towards the baked cookies, and after grabbing one, it retracted. Claudius didn't say a word as he softly narrowed his eyes.
Around them, the only sound was Elsa's munching of cookies, and for a moment it paused as she whispered:
The sound was faint and weak.
"Is it not to your taste?"
Right after he asked this, he started hearing the sound of munching again.
"It's too sweet, and it feels like my brain is going numb. I think you brainwashed people must have heads bursting of honey if you eat so many of these things."
Although she spoke unhappily, she licked her fingers reluctantly. Claudius chuckled softly.
He laughed gently, and for some reason, it didn't make Elsa feel bad. Elsa didn't understand why he laughed, and she couldn't understand how it was different from the derisive mocking sneers that she often directed towards others.
Elsa now tried the cup of cocoa, and murmured: "Too sweet. Too bitter." But she didn't stop drinking it.
Her eyes were vacant, and she didn't look back at Claudius, who had only been looking at the stove. Her red eyes reflected the flames, like glowing red rubies. Not long after, Elsa whispered:
"What am I going to do from now on?"
Her voice was hoarse and different from before. It was not aggressive. Before Claudius responded, he hesitated for a moment. However, he hid his hesitation and purposefully proceeded with a cheery voice:
"Weren't you going to run away?"
Even though Claudius said this to her, Elsa did not look back. Her eyes narrowed, and with her voice lowered, she retaliated with a few tenacious murmurs:
"...Are you happy now?"
"Yeah. It was my responsibility to keep you from running away."
Claudius played around with the leaves of a nearby potted plant. His attitude was gentle but stubborn. Once more, Elsa spoke up with a weak voice:
"Were you serious about wanting to marry me?"
After Elsa said these words, the emptiness in her heart was clear. Even after being taken to another country and wrapped in a blanket with a fragrance she couldn't identify, Elsa could still not believe that this was reality.
Every time she felt something warm, gentle, and tender, she was inclined to think these beautiful things were not real, that instead they were part of a bitter nightmare.
For her, reality was steeped in striking pain and suffering. They were never too far away, and she felt she would soon encounter them.
"You don't believe it?"
Claudius asked Elsa quietly. Elsa responded to his question with a question.
Draped in quilts, Elsa clung to her knees and stared at Claudius. Her pupils no longer shined with flames, and her red eyes were dull and cloudy.
She half-closed her eyes, and raved, almost sleep-talking in a hoarse voice.
She brought her hand to her chest, and clutched the Star Stone that hung from her neck.
"...I refuse to allow others to decide my life."
Elsa murmured these words, and when she finished she curled up her body. She cradled in her head in her knees as she quietly dozed off.
Claudius sat on the chair with his arms folded as he watched the sleeping Elsa.
Soon, two men outside the room gently knocked on the door. They politely called out to Claudius, and Claudius stood up and opened the door.
"Andy, you're just in time."
The person who came in was the Holy Knight who had left earlier. Claudius invited him in and pointed to to Elsa:
"Can you help me move her to her bedroom? I'm not confident in my ability to move her.'"
Seeing Elsa curled up and sleeping, Ann Duke's eyes widened in surprise. He peered at her and quietly asked:
"This... Well, it shouldn't be a problem."
Seemingly sensing his hesitation, Claudius told him:
"I don't think she will wake up."
Faced with Claudius's clear answer, Ann Duke looked at him and spoke in a calm voice:
"...Did you make her drink something?"
Claudius nodded without hesitation.
"Mhm. I mixed strong sleeping pills in the cocoa. It'd be a disaster if she woke up shouting and trying to run away."
Ann Duke folded his arms and sighed deeply. He uncrossed them and placed a hand on Claudius's head and spoke:
"Should I scold you?"
He spoke quietly as if he was talking to himself.
However, Claudius and the Holy Knight had known each other for a long time, and Claudius had been taught by him for many years. As a result, he sensed the intent of his words, and his green eyes dimmed further.
"...Did I do something wrong?"
He looked at Elsa, who looked like she had fainted, and started defending himself:
"I'm not trying to take away her freedom. She's gone through a lot, and also she's been enchanted, so her body has been through a lot of stress. It's a bit much to expect that she'd be calm right after arriving in this country..."
Ann Duke put his hand on Claudius's head. Touching the silver hair that covered his head was very comfortable. Since he was born with an unusual physique, Claudius grew slower than other adolescents his age, and was short. To the Holy Knight, he was forever a little prince.
Then, as he always had in the past, he spoke equivocally to Claudius:
"I know. If it were me, I would probably do the same. It's for her good, and it's considerate. But, Dia, did you think about how'd she feel about the method you used? If you violated her intent and used magic or drugs and made her angry, that'd be counterproductive."
Claudius's gaze lowered, and he carefully considered Ann Duke's words.
He responded like a child, which made Claudius seem rather unreliable, but also sincere. As such Ann Duke didn't blame him. He just ruffled Claudius's hair, and then headed for Elsa.
"Well, pardon me."
He picked up the sheets along with Elsa, and in an instant he frowned and commented: "She's too light." Those words were not a compliment.
He lowered her on the bed. Before calling the maids, Ann Duke spoke ruefully:
"I used to had a wild imagination back in the day, but--"
Elsa's sleeping face was not serene. In her sleep, she seemed to be suffering. As if to conceal his pity, Ann Duke shrugged.
"I could never imagine meeting such a crazy princess."
Claudius was also watching her sleeping face, and he seemed to feel something strange, so he tilted his head and spoke:
"Dia, do you like her?"
Ann Duke smiled as he spoke; however, Claudius could not smile. He just quietly watched Elsa's sleeping face and spoke:
"It's not a question of whether I like her or not."
The profile of his face looked solemn, like an adult's.
"This is my responsibility."
Ann Duke was surprised for a moment to hear him say this, and scratched his head anxiously. As an adult, he felt like he needed to say something, but he couldn't find the right words to express himself.
While he searched for something to say, Claudius took his gaze away from Elsa and looked at Ann Duke as he spoke:
"Andy, my father..."
Ann Duke's tone of voice became stiff, completely different from before. He raised his eyebrows and tried to force a cheerful smile as he spoke.
"Nothing's wrong. When I rushed over, he was perfectly fine. He's not going to go down that easily. Your old man is very tenacious."
Ann Duke tried to comfort Claudius as he told him that it was a merely a precautionary measure that his father needed to rest at the Marquis's mansion for one night.
The king presently was not in the capital city of Red Ark. It was reported that during secret talks at some Marquis's mansion, the king's health had turned for the worse. Claudius had begged the Holy Knight to check out the situation at the king's side, even if he had to leave the castle.
In contrast with Claudius's young age, the current king was old. Also, aside from his age, it was not hard to imagine all the toils his body has accumulated through the years.
During his reign, he had restored a deteriorating kingdom. The rumors about this wise king were that his health was failing, and for the still young heir Claudius, this made him feel uneasy.
However, Claudius acted staunch and resolute, and simply nodded his head, no longer pursuing the issue any further.
"I'll be busy starting tomorrow. In that time, she..."
He looked down at Elsa and whispered:
"Can I leave her to Octavia?"
Ocatavia, whom Claudius mentioned, was Ann Duke's wife. She was a guardian of the Holy Sword, the wife of the knight, and a beautiful woman. She was by no means an ordinary lady.
She was quite renowned in the kingdom of Red Ark. In order to be the sword's guardian, she needed to live and die with the sword from the moment of her birth as a witch. Nowadays she had chosen to part from that path, and lived together with the Holy Knight instead.
Ann Duke heard Claudius's words, and laughed heartily.
"I'll ask her straight away tomorrow morning. She's already complained to me today quite severely about why I was the only one who got to meet the princess."
Ann Duke shrugged as he spoke and looked down at Elsa.
"I am also very worried about the magic that sealed her voice."
The Sword Witch of this country was a specialist in magic. Not even counting her amenable personality, no one was better suited than her to take care of Elsa. The only problem was that the Sword Witch was not someone whom Claudius could freely command from his position, as she had independent authority and separate royal privileges.
However, to Ann Duke and Octavia who had no children of their own, Claudius was almost like their own son. Of course they would help with his requests.
After Ann Duke generously agreed to this matter, Clauidus thanked him and looked at Elsa, narrowing his eyes and speaking in a calm voice:
"I don't have any memory of my mother, so I have no idea how my father and mother behaved as a married couple. Although I can certainly visualise it, I am unable to use them as an example."
Due to the weakness of her body, his mother died immediately after giving birth to Claudius.
"...But, if I can, I'd like to become a special couple just like Andy and Octavia."
Claudius only knew his father in person, and his mother from portraits. To know that he felt this way, Ann Duke felt very proud.
He embarrassingly scratched his cheek, sighed gently, and spoke:
"We didn't get along that well when we met, and we certainly didn't go without our own share of hardships."
As if reminiscing about the past, Ann Duke looked at the sharp moon from the window in Elsa's room as he murmured.
Thin moonlight shined through a gap in the wall on a candlestick's flame. The crack had no window frame or glass, and it was in fact too narrow to even be called a window. Instead, a complex measuring instrument was mounted on top. Known as an astrolabe, it was a very common device in the upper class residences in the country of Vion, a kingdom of divination.
A brand-new astrolabe, together with the fragrant aroma of burning essence, seemed to signify the prestige of a monarch. The room was dim with little light, and it was well suited for a private discussion in the middle of the night.
The man that sat on the couch was in his prime, bearded, and deeply wrinkled. He had small, squinty eyes. Even under the dim light of the candlestick, one could see the noble and fine-quality of his clothes; it was embroidered with the emblem that only the ruler of the city Vion could have. However, he was not royalty or even of noble birth. As such, from the moment he woke to the time he slept, he never took off the emblem that showed his status as the prime minister, and he always wore the finest cloth.
After draining a silver globlet of hard liquor, he, the prime minister, nestled up against the side of a woman and poured more alcohol. The woman was still young, in stark contrast with a middle-aged man like him, but her beauty far exceeded the strength of the liquor. She was the wife of the prime mister, and to him she was simply a goddess of astrology.
The prime minister's lips moistened with fresh liquor, he whispered:
"Raise your face, Lady Carlston."
As time passed in the room succulently like honey, there was a person present who was out of place. He was on his knees and fists on the stone floor; this bulky man who had his head bowed was wearing dirty clothes. He was truly ill suited for the majesty of this room. When he heard the prime minister's voice, he moved his shoulders, but since it was dark, one could not see his expression.
A deep blue Star Stone hung from the man's waist, dark like the midnight sky. On the streets, there were many people who would hide their Star Stone; however, by custom, Star Stones must be placed somewhere visible when entering the castle or the temple. The Star Stone proved that one was a citizen of Vion. Sometimes the Star Stone was a symbol of status or position.
"...I lost it a long time ago, sir."
The man whispered hoarsely, coughing bitterly like he was going to vomit blood.
The prime minister's mouth twisted into a smile.
"That's not the real reason you're here. At least, when the previous generation of the Carlston family disintegrated, didn’t you resist until the end? That's the cowardly Harrison that I know."
The coward whom the prime minister spoke of was a major aristocrat whom everyone in Vion had heard of. The origins and authority of the clan, as well as the bad blood between them and the prime minister was well known.
The prime minister's words came from understanding, but due to the contentious nature of the rivalry between the prime minister and the aristocrat, this insult was rather slight. The man could only grip his fist tightly without answering.
"...I want to hear the real reason why you called me here."
The man was not used to making such forthright requests, and the prime minister seemed to make him so anxious that he averted his eyes. The prime minister only took his time as he stroked his wife's hair, and she gave a maddeningly beautiful smile.
Then, the prime minister spoke in a relaxed tone, as if chatting about everyday gossip:
"Today, Viontine was married."
The shoulders of the man who knelt trembled. However, he still did not say anything.
"That pitiable Poison-Breathing Princess. If she hadn't been born in this country, her life wouldn't have suffered under the whims of the Seers."
"Lord Carlston, you are the same. You, as well as many others."
The prime minister finished his glass of wine and stood up.
"Do you dream of a country without divination?"
The man swallowed. Still, he did not say a word.
The prime minister advanced to the man's side and stopped at his knees. Then, only the prime minister's voice echoed through the dark.
"Every man has a capacity for pride, and is capable of being the masters of their own country. We are indeed the children of the God of Stars, however, even the heavens are concerned with the present corruption in this country."
"What are you planning...?"
The man's voice shook, still trying to discern the prime minister's true intent. The prime minister's words were still hollow as before, but they were incomprehensibly attractive.
"I was born in the slums. I know the things that Harrison and you all say about me. But because of this, I understand some other things too."
He placed his hands on Lord Carlston's shoulders. What sort of future would those dry hands grasp?
"At the dawn of a new age, this country will need a new parliament. A parliament by the people, for the people. It is for this that we must kick up a storm."
For the country -- this is what the prime minister said. For Vion, and for changing this rotten country that might as well be the Kingdom of Seers.
"...once again, will you pick up your sword, Lord Carlston?"
In the room, there was only the flickering sound of burning oil, and noise from the man's throat.
The man wasn't sure whether he was trembling from fright or excitement. Pressing on his lead, the prime minister advanced again:
"Thanks to the seers, countless citizens have been forced into lives of suffering. Is that not so?"
The man's lips shook, and a hoarse voice croaked out:
"...the Poison-Breathing Princess."
Hearing that unpleasant name, the prime minister raised his eyebrows. The man seem confused by his own words, and struggled to find something more to say. However, his mind cleared, and he continued:
"Not just the citizens, but the Poison-Breathing Princess as well..."
The pitiable Viontine. Hearing her name, the prime minister laughed. It had quite splendidly gone according to his expectations.
"Of course, she is also a victim. When the new era begins, we'll have her return to this Vion. We'll let her be the princess of this country and ensure she lives a happy life."
This of course would some time to arrange, and so the prime minister asked the man if he was willing to help.
The man could not answer instantly. His silence expressed his confusion. The prime minister said that he'd guarantee the princess would live a happy life, but did those words make him happy? He wasn't sure.
However, before now, there wasn't anyone who wanted to change the country. No one thought to stand up to change this country.
The hoarse voice was cut short, interrupted by the rustling of clothes. It wasn't the prime minister who stood up, but rather the woman in a long dress who had been snuggling on the couch the entire time. She spoke up.
"Have faith. The God of Stars is with us."
The things she said sounded too suave. The woman whispered in a sultry voice that the man had grown accustomed to.
"Leave your fate to the God of Star's plans."
Echoing her words, the prime ministered repeated:
"Leave your fate to the God of Star's plans."
The prime minister spoke of a country without divination. Their desires and prayers were clear, and they thirsted for it. However, everyone in the room was already brainwashed and accustomed to hearing this statement.
Leave your fate to the God of Star's plans.
Raising her silver chalice, the woman smiled.
"This whole country is going to change."
Drifting clouds concealed the stars that showed the way, as well as a thin sliver of moon.
The candlelight went out, and everything was blanketed by darkness.
Translator's Notes and References
- Claudius is referring to Mimizuku, a character from the prequel novel
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