The process of extracting information from someone’s words, seamlessly continuing the conversation, and naturally steering its course intrigued me.
It triggered my interest, making me want to understand her purpose and know every single detail of why she was doing this.
Perhaps you can call it a vicious hobby.
Ronella called my name again.
For a moment, a sweet scent swept under my nose, and I almost twitched. I quickly turned my attention to the princess, maintaining proper eye contact to hide any hint of my reaction.
I sensed a familiar fragrance. While not entirely recognizable, it had a peculiar familiarity that lingered deep within me. It wasn’t the manufactured scent coming from Princess Nestro, but a delicate scent that might deceive bees into mistaking it for the fragrance of flowers, drawing them in.
“I was saying that my cousin is here…at the table where Your Holiness is set to dine.”
“If you’re uncomfortable with it, I can send them away but…”
The princess carelessly rubbed her thumb and index finger together. Was it just a habit or something deeper? Maybe it was just an arbitrary gesture.
“There’s no need to send them away. On the contrary, I hope they are not troubled by our presence.”
The topic of the Princess’s cousin immediately brought one person to mind—Prince Alois Eseah.
The same person I met this morning.
As always, my predictions were not too far off.
His attire was the same, so he seemed to have come here right after parting with me.
He must have heard us coming because he was just starting to rise from his seat. Seeing that, I spoke to him.
“Huh? Your Holiness…”
When our eyes met, I almost smiled reflexively. Now that I was sandwiched between Princess Nestro and Prince Alois, I felt like I couldn’t let down my guard even more.
Dealing with Alois alone might have been fine but dealing with the princess required even more caution.
“It seems we parted ways earlier, only to cross paths again.” I remarked.
“Oh? Is this not the first time you’ve met?”
Just as I was wondering how interesting it would be if Ducal Prince Nestro were here too, Princess Ronella asked a question.
There were many rumors about the Marquis and the ensuing commotion during the Goddess Festival not long ago.
Stories circulated about the Marquis facing punishment and vanishing, while another tale suggested he faced severe repercussions for attempting to assault a high-ranking individual.
Thankfully, nobody knew the victim was Prince Alois. Did she want me to confirm that this wasn’t our first meeting?
“We’ve met before on several occasions. Isn’t that right, Saintess?”
The prince stole the words right out of my mouth.
“I’ve seen you enough times that this cannot be our first.” I replied.
Reneben stayed silent, while the Princess hummed suspiciously and looked puzzled.
“How did you two meet?”
Was she nudging me to divulge the incident with the Marquis? It was a fairly sensitive topic.
Most people didn’t know about it…yet she was acting as if she knew something.
“Her Holiness saved me when the Marquis attempted to humiliate me.” Alois disclosed the sensitive topic rather casually.
“I’m sure you must feel grateful. I have also received a lot of help from the Saintess. But Senior brother, what do you mean by almost humiliated by the Marquis? How can he harm Cousin of all people?”
The conversation felt amiable and natural, yet strangely nerve-wracking.
“Sadly, that’s a secret between myself and Her Holiness.”
“Oh, you’re too much! We haven’t met in so long and you’re keeping secrets,” Ronella exclaimed.
“Ronella, it seems we’ve been discussing among ourselves for a bit too long without Her Holiness.”
“Oh no. I’m sorry.”
Although I was having fun, Reneben seemed unhappy with the fact that they were talking among themselves and ignoring me.
Alois seemed to have noticed Reneben’s increasing stiffness, so he said that. They only exchanged a few words, so I wasn’t even being ignored.
In the end, the four of us ended up sitting together for a meal.
Although I initially intended to have a light lunch, I began downing the meal once the food arrived.
The perfectly grilled steak, the sauce-soaked salad, and the delightful seasoning on the scallops—each bite was catered to my palate, as if they knew what I liked.
Unlike the plain food in the temple, the stimulating taste immediately captured my taste buds. I had been thinking of grabbing some desserts from the party hall but now…
“Does it suit your taste?” Ronella asked.
“Of course. I heard even His Majesty the Emperor was impressed by Duke Nestro’s chef. It’s just as amazing as I’d heard,” I replied.
“I’m glad you like it. Senior brother, Lord Reneben, how is it for you?”
“For me, it tastes as good as well,” the prince replied lightly.
Reneben appeared pensive before responding in a somewhat sharp tone.
“The scent is overpowering, and the meat is tough.”
While the scent might be strong, it was just enough to whet the appetite. As for the toughness of the meat, I had no idea since I wasn’t an expert. All I cared about was the taste.
“…Is that so? If it’s not to your liking, I can request for it to be prepared again.”
Seemingly shocked by his words, the Princess’s eyelashes fluttered, and she sighed faintly when she spoke.
Somehow, her expression resembled an abandoned woman.
Even when she spoke with that captivating expression, Reneben remained unfazed, and I stared at him with puzzlement.
The Princess whom, at one point, he could not do without.
The Reneben I know used to wear a faint smile that said ‘I’m happy if the person I love is happy’ but that expression was no longer there.
In fact, the emotions flickered across Reneben’s face were turbulence, confusion, pain, and anger. But even after piecing these emotional fragments together, I couldn’t grasp anything.
“It is alright. Her Holiness is also eating it, so it is not my place to act,” As he spoke, his anger melted little more.
When I raised my empty glass, a maid approached and refilled it.
A faint trickle echoed as the water entered the glass. I brought the glass to my lips, lazily closing my eyes.
In a way, it was comedic and entertaining.
This is why I say being with the princess leads to interesting situations.
Reneben’s jumbled reaction was like a complex puzzle that I needed to solve.
Then there was Prince Alois, who licked his red upper lip like a gentle deer and made eye contact with me, as if it was unplanned.
And Princess Ronella, who seemed on the verge of tears and was gripping her knee under the table.
When Prince Alois glanced at her, her earlobes reddened, and her eyes curved as she smiled.
It might not seem like it, but it was a very enjoyable play.
Any bystander would find this scene interesting.
“Reneben, I’m fine so you can stop.”
Upon hearing my words, Reneben’s mouth flew shut like a clam.
Prince Alois lowered his head and picked up his knife to resume cutting his food.
Once I had downed the glass of water, I picked up the red wine glass and savored the sweet taste in my mouth.
Just as I was wondering if the meal was going to finish quietly, I noticed Prince Alois casting a subtle smile at Princess Ronella.
An interaction unseen by the others but since I was paying close attention, I caught it.
‘There’s nothing to gain from being tied with the Nestro Ducal family.’
Right now, I was playing within the scope that I could handle but if my ties with the Nestro house deepened, that meant something had happened that was beyond my control.
‘…Shall I shake things up a bit?’
In the end, the depth of our relationship was decided by me.
Twirling my wrist, I allowed the little wine left to slosh around in the glass. The deep-red liquid spun around chaotically.
I needed information on Prince Alois that I had seen and observed with my own eyes, not information that I got from someone else.
As long as the prince kept his promise, I stood to lose nothing in this transaction.
“…Ah, that’s cold.”
Hence, I had to bear with this.
As I kept twirling my wrist, the glass tilted, and the red liquid spilled onto my body. The crimson fluid slowly trickled down from my left shoulder, seeping into my clothes.
The icy sensation prompted me to exclaim in dissatisfaction without even having to act.
I brought down the corners of my mouth and softened the sharp look in my eyes. Then I stared at the red liquid soaking my body.
The ornate golden patterns on my white robe already hinted at how expensive it was. Hopefully, I’ll gain something worth of this level of sacrifice…
“Are you okay?!”
Prince Alois reacted swiftly while Princess Ronella realized what was going on a beat later and leapt out of her seat, crying out in surprise.
But before she could say anything else, she was overshadowed by the two men who stood up in a fuss.
Unsurprisingly, Prince Alois reached me faster than Reneben, who paused when Princess Ronella cried out in alarm.
“Cover up with this.”
The real swiftness here was the speed with which he took off his outer coat.
Prince Alois removed his black uniform and gently draped it over my shoulders. The uniform, weighed down by various accessories, felt rather heavy.
Honestly, my first thought when he put it over my shoulders was that wearing this all the time would put a strain on my back.
For no real reason, I straightened my depressed shoulders and purposefully didn’t hide that I was stunned by the weight.
“I think it might be a little heavy for Her Holiness.”
Reneben said as he pulled out my chair, seemingly upset at having his job stolen.
When I stood up, the weight of the golden chain and clear jewels, which were undoubtedly real, were no joke.
It was really surprising how heavy it was, considering how many noblewomen wore such jewels over their dresses and walked around.
“I’ll have the maids prepare something to cover you.”
Ronella looked very worried when she saw my unfortunate state. Prince Alois called over a maid and stared at me intently.
That was all.
Was it 3 seconds? He looked straight into my eyes for exactly that long then proceeded to turn his head away.
I doubt this was the first time he was conveying a deep gaze with that face.
While the average noble miss might start imagining scenes from a romance novel, that wasn’t the case for me.
When I spilled the wine, my aim was to verify whether Prince Alois wanted to impress me romantically, as a man or interpersonally, as an individual.
I already knew which it was, but I wanted to see it with my own eyes.
I followed the maid as she guided me away and once, I left, I burst out laughing.
If his aim was just to impress me as an individual, it would be no fun now, would it?
 Ronella calls him ‘Orabeoni/Elder Brother’ but since we know he is her cousin, I am translating it to ‘Senior brother’ to make a distinction.
**The speech in this novel is sometimes so superfluous that it gives me a headache.