Meanwhile, At the Empire
Sophie and Marco. A collective groan swam through the class when they saw that the both of them were booking for the same event. Everyone knew what kind of relationship these two had.
“……Marco is already participating in two events right? Everyone else and I have only chosen one event so far, so you should give it up.”
Sophie wasn’t acting like she normally did with a slightly curt edge coming out in her voice, so Tio tugged on the hem of her sister’s clothes and called out her name.
The message was clear. “Calm down”. Understanding that, Sophie took a deep breath to settle her nerves, but before she could calm herself completely, Marco jumped out of his desk and began prattling on.
“Leave it to a girl like you!? If we don’t win, we don’t get any points you know~? This white-haired girl, if you can’t even understand that, then maybe it’s not just your hair but your brain that’s old.”
“Y-You’re making fun of my white hair again! How many times are you going to act like’s it’s gone grey!?”¹
When Sophie jumped to her feet and began arguing back, both the rest of the class and even the teacher sighed.
To say that these two were on extremely bad terms would be putting it mildly. Sophie and Tio have always been beautiful, oftentimes being compared to fairies or angels since they were little, so many of the boys had come to like them. All of the adults also tend to think very highly of them as well.
However, not everybody is going to like you in a school that gathers together all sorts of children together. Marco is one of them.
“Having a girl do it is already going to cause problems, and it’s only going to get worse if we have an old woman like you running! Leave it to a boy like me and just quietly stand back!”
“I-I am not an old woman! Besides Marco, I beat you the last time we raced!”
Sophie’s argument was sound. Even if those differences become more apparent as they get older, at age ten, any physical difference between boys and girls aren’t going to be that great. In fact, Sophie is faster than Marco is.
“O-Only once in a while! I would definitely win if we raced now!”
“Isn’t that what you always say? And then when Sophie beats you, again, you always say you won’t lose next time.”
“Gender discrimination is the worst! The sports meet isn’t just for you boys!”
And in a flash, the voices of the other girls in class rose up to defend Sophie. From their point of view, Marco’s argument was nothing short of tyranny. As fellow girls, they were unable to let it slide.
“S-Shut up! I told you girls to back off!”
“Yeah, yeah~! Us girls are stronger than you anyway, so you don’t have any right to complain!”
“There’s no way you’re tougher than me!?”
However, a quarrel among children runs more on emotion than thought-out reason. With the way Marco is talking, there might be a couple of girls in class who might still be able to calmly argue against him, but they are the minority here. Of course, a child who lashes out emotionally when confronted with reason isn’t going to be convinced no matter what you say anyway.
“Calm yourselves! Be quiet!”
As the entire class descended into chaos and even those students trying to remain neutral got riled up, the teacher hit his attendance book against the top of his desk several times to try and regain order.
“Sophie and our other three students are only participating in one event. Marco, you’ve already volunteered for two, so I’m afraid you will have to let this one go.”
Marco settled down a little thanks to an adult’s intervention, but he clearly wasn’t convinced yet. With him like that, Tio turned her attention towards Sophie.
“Calm down Sophie. This isn’t the time to start a fight.”
Generally speaking, Sophie is an exemplary student. Even though she doesn’t really have any friends among the boys, she still has a friendly and kind personality.
She isn’t the type to get into it with any of the other students, but Marco went too far back there.
“…….we have the same hair as Mama, but he keeps making fun of it every chance he gets.”
“…..well, I know how you feel.”
This white hair praised by most of the rest of the class is something she inherited from her beautiful mother and is a meagre source of pride for Sophie.
There are no ifs ands or buts about it. If someone starts to talk badly about it, Sophie isn’t going to keep quiet. Tio might not take good care of her hair, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to just let it pass if someone starts speaking badly about it either.
Marco already learned that the hard way before, yet he continues to make fun of it even after they had tried nicely asking him to stop. So while Sophie might not hate Marco, there’s no way she’s going to get along with him.
“I-I can’t agree to this! If that’s how it is then she can have one of my events, and I’ll take the 100 meter relay!”
“Why is he so selfish……!”
Marco jabbed a finger towards Sophie just as she was about to respond back.
“If you can’t accept that…….than have a match with me!”
The Earlgrey Dukedom, a prestigious and historic noble family of the empire. Once, they were the envy of every other aristocratic family in the country, but at the moment, they currently find themselves surrounded by ridicule from their fellow nobles at an evening party.
“Look at them……you’ll oftentimes see them at places like this now that their prestige has fallen.”
“The empress they brought forward ended up being sterile……and their eldest daughter was exiled to that detestable kingdom.”
“And now, her Imperial Highness is…….you know?”
It was all Genan and Elena could do to stifle the screams building up in their chests, instead focusing their rage into a glare aimed at the surrounding nobles purposefully whispering loud enough that they could be overheard.
Although the Duke and Duchess would never admit it, objectively speaking, there wasn’t anything incorrect in what they were saying.
“Ku……! Saying whatever they damn well please……!”
“Why do we and Alice have to be ridiculed like this…….!?”
Eventually unable to stomach the derision any longer, Genan and Elena made their way out onto a balcony where they could air their hateful complaints.
Ten years have passed since the daughter they raised with all their heart had left to become an empress, yet she still had not been able deliver an heir. This was due to a congenital illness.
All the privileged echelons of the empire use a hereditary system. For an imperial consort, not being able to have children is a fatal drawback. It was only natural for the other aristocrats to believe that Alice wasn’t suitable to be empress at that point, much to the duke’s family’s distress and their vassals’ anxiety.
Alice was only able to remain empress thanks to the Earlgrey Dukedom’s extensive assets and status and Albert’s own will. The time for when the emperor would normally get a concubine has already long passed.
“How absolutely annoying……! Forgetting the kindness we showed her by allowing her to live under our roof for ten years and bearing her fangs against us and the empire…….!”
However, Alice’s misfortune did not just end with her being unable to be blessed with children. Since the reason for her infertility was a congenital illness, she had an excuse, and there have been several queens in recorded history who reigned despite never having any children. And so, all Albert needed to have done was choose a low-ranking noble girl as a concubine who would have been able to bear a new heir without being able to threaten Alice’s position as empress.
Albert was blindly devoted to Alice and Alice herself hated the idea, but Genan and Elena were confident they would have been able to convince their beloved daughter that this was the best way for her to remain as empress.
Albert would quickly sire an heir, but all his love would still be directed towards Alice. The Earlgrey family and their allies had carefully crafted every detail of this plan, and they were prepared to see it through.
“Shirley……! Even after all the pain I went through giving birth to her……! Even though she was driven from the empire, still she finds a way to hurt us……!”
However, all their plans were put to ruin by the abominable daughter that had been exiled from these lands ten years ago.
It all began when it was discovered that Shirley had given birth to Albert’s children and was now living in the kingdom. Discovering this, Albert decided he would bring his daughters back to the empire and have them crowned as the future empresses.
In the exceptional circumstances that the emperor never had a son born to him, the eldest daughter would be allowed to stand up as the head of the empire. As Alice is unable to give birth, Shirley’s daughters would be next in line for the throne. Even if their mother had been banished, they carried within themselves the blood of the Earlgrey family, so if one of them were to become the next empress, the Earlgrey family could save face and Alice’s position would go unchallenged. It was the perfect solution.
“But Shirley and the kingdom got in the empire’s way……!!”
Just thinking about it made their blood boil. The wine glass in Elena’s hand cracked beneath her grip.
In any case, the kingdom refused the empire’s request to hand over Sophie and Tio saying that they and their mother were recognized as citizens of the kingdom and could not be taken.
Ultimately things progressed into a Duel Ordained by the Goddess. But Shirley, having strengthened herself over her time as an adventurer, won that duel without breaking a sweat–laughing the entire time as she drove Alice off a cliff instead of offering her a helping hand.
……at least, that was what it looked like from Genan and Elena’s perspective.
“Doesn’t that girl feel the least bit sorry for her younger sister? It’s like she has abandoned Alice during her time of need…….”
“No, that’s exactly how it is……I can’t believe she’s our child. I am convinced someone switched her in for our real child when we weren’t looking.”
After the poor treatment they subjected Shirley to…….and now they’re acting innocent and trying to solicit her for whatever they want.
But the bad luck they and Alice had been subjected to did not end there. The worst had come from a series of incidents perpetrated by the former knight captain Gran Wolff which resulted in not just pieces of the empire breaking off and joining the kingdom, but also left a swathe of large scars all across Alice’s body.
“Ah…..our poor Alice. I’m sure even now she is trembling by herself and crying in her bed…….!”
Which means……Alice has lost almost all value as empress. Genan and Elena believed that Albert and Alice’s love was forged from unbreakable chains, but there were many who only saw Alice as a liability now. They couldn’t deny the possibility that these people might be able to convince Albert to change his mind.
(And yet for some reason, Shirley looks as young as ever.)
During that duel, it was quite clear for all who saw that Albert had been charmed after seeing his ex-fiancée for the first time in ten years.
(Perhaps……is she looking to enthrall His Majesty and steal Alice’s husband!? Kuu……! What a lowly daughter!)
There is no way they would allow that. Genan was driven forward by righteous indignation, believing that Alice would be much too pitiful to have something like that happen.
“The only reason why Gran Wolff did what he did is because Shirley refused to step up as an older sister and hand over our grandkids from the kingdom. After all the pain we went through because of her appearance after she was born as well. That girl truly is a plague.”
“Indeed! Moreover, with each of these grave injustices occurring one after another…..just what will become of the Earlgrey Dukedom in the future?”
The Earlgreys were now facing a serious situation. And just the thought that Shirley was living happily in the kingdom without knowing any of that made their blood boil once again. However thanks to the empire’s loss in the Duel Ordained by the Goddess, it was impossible for the empire to make any kind of direct move unless they wished to draw the ire of the neighboring nations as well.
“With things as they are…….we don’t have the luxury of being choosey with our methods.”
Backed into a corner, the Duke’s eyes shone with a dubious light atop a brooding expression into the night air.
- They’re both using the kanji 白髪 here, but the pronunciation is different. 白髪(しらが) means to have white hair while 白髪(はくはつ) means to have hair that has turned white or grey from age.