Section 14: With the Dendrobiums Watching
[Carol]: “Oh man~, that was amazing.”
Carol was the first of us to say anything inside the carriage on our way back to the castle.
[Toslin]: “Why are you laughing? It’s a duel? Iris is wrapped up in a duel you know?”
Toslin naturally rebuked her while chopping her head before turning towards me.
[Toslin]: “That Montifi girl used some powerful magic. Is there any chance of you winning this?”
[Iris]: “There is.”
I sat back in my plush seat, flipping through my book and nodded my head.
[Carol]: “Oh, you actually look really smart when you are reading a book with glasses on…….”
I couldn’t help but to smile wryly after Carol’s slightly rude comment.
[Iris]: “I’ll have you know I have good grades in school. Outside of practical training.”
[Saluena]: “In a duel, the results of that practical training are what matters. Is there a reason you seem so confident in this?”
Saluena unwrapped a cookie and shoved it inside my mouth. Saluena, how many cookies did you end up making……?”
[Rose]: “Onee-sama, Iris cannot answer you if her mouth is blocked up with cookies.”
[Saluena]: “Oh, you’re right. I’m sorry.”
Rose-san pulled out a thermos and poured out a cup of tea for me as I tried to hurriedly chew through the cookie. The sun had begun to set, and a chill grew in the air. The steam rising up from the cup coiled around my face and pleasantly warmed my cheeks.
[Iris]: “Nothing in particular.”
[Lapris]: “Wait what? Nothing?”
Lapris stopped nibbling her own cookie on top of Saluena’s lap and gave me a shocked look.
[Carol]: “Is that okay? You do know you aren’t going to be able to see Rose anymore if you lose right? I mean, normally that’d mean the party would be dissolved…….”
[Lapris]: “Eh, that can’t happen. I want to stay with everyone…….”
[Saluena]: “Iris’s magic is powerful, but it takes a long time to activate. Due to the nature of a duel, she won’t be allowed to bring in Unicorn from the beginning. So she will have to endure her opponent’s spells until she can activate her grimoire…….”
[Toslin]: “Then couldn’t Saluena fight for her? You’re allowed to have a representative fight for you in a duel. Or is it different in this country?”
[Rose]: “It is allowed, but you must declare you are doing so when you propose the duel. It will be difficult to hire a representative after the duel has already been accepted.”
After Rose-san shot down Toslin’s idea, everyone’s gazes once again turned towards me.
[Carol]: “Then what are you planning? Are you going to fight with a sword?”
[Iris]: “No, there’s no way I could do that.”
I have been carrying a short sword for self-defense all this time, but I’d sooner be able to pluck a cloud out of the air with my bare hands than to beat a witch with it.
I closed my book and turned my palm towards Carol who was sitting directly across from me.
[Iris]: “I might not be able to use any magic from a spellbook……but all that means is that I will have to try something else.”
She raised an eyebrow and tilted her head.
[Iris]: “So I’m not going to lose. Especially if it’s a one-on-one fight.”
…….I was talking big to Carol, but I’m incredibly nervous right now.
(A duel with a noble……)
I laid back in the tub, soaking my shoulders in the hot water while I stared up at the high ceiling.
Apparently this large, spacious marble bath inside the castle is currently reserved entirely for us, and the castle maids prepare fresh hot water for it every day.
As the warmth from the water ran down my back causing me to reflexively sigh in comfort, I heard someone else slip into the water.
[Rose]: “Do you mind if I come in?”
[Iris]: “Ah, no. Of course not.”
Purple and white flowers――the amorous scent of the dendrobiums floating on top of the water hung in the air with the splash of the water as Rose-san slipped into the bath next to me.
Her cotton candy-like hair became wet and matted down as it sunk into hot water.
[Rose]: “…….I must apologize to you.”
I quickly shook my head after receiving an apology out of nowhere.
[Iris]: “Eh, what for?”
[Rose]: “……Auntie…….Yuhanna-sama told me from the very beginning. The Auroll name will follow me no matter what my wishes are.”
…….oh yeah, I do remember Yuhanna-sama saying something like that the first day we arrived in the capital.
[Rose]: “In this place, I am still considered an Auroll. No matter how much I tell people my name is Cuulbacall, they will not listen to me.”
My mind drifted back into the school’s courtyard when Rose-san was surrounded by other students.
[Rose]: “The people around me go so far as to insist that I be an Auroll. And for the sake of seeing that happen, there are those who take action to see it done. They believe it to be for the best, but they are doing things of their own accord, apathetic to my own wants.”
Rose-san sighed and scooped up a cup of hot water into her palms.
A single purple flower floated in the palm of her hands like a ship out at sea.
[Rose]: “I went to see Montifi-san yesterday afternoon.”
[Iris]: “D-Did you?”
[Rose]: “Yes, in order to challenge her to a duel.”
Wait, pull it back. What did Rose-san just…….
[Iris]: “I’m sorry. Did you…….just say duel?”
[Rose]: “I did”
So I really wasn’t hearing things. Rose-san nodded and looked right at me. With the same smile she always has on.
[Rose]: “I……could not let it go. I wanted her to apologize for making you depressed.”
Then when I saw the two of them together during my lunch break with Lou-chan…….they were applying for a duel?
[Rose]: “However, Montifi-san refused to accept. She did not wish to fight against an Auroll.”
Of course. Rose-san’s house is a margrave which ranks higher than the Montifi earls. It’s only natural she would refuse.
[Rose]: “As unbelievable as it might seem, everything she has done is for what she perceives to be my benefit. She sees you as being in the way of my future, and so she was trying to get rid of you. No, I suppose……’is’ would be the right word.”
There is an aristocratic bond there between Rose-san and Grides-san, and since we are talking about the world of nobles, there isn’t much else she could do besides accept that this is the way it would be.
Hence the apology.
[Iris]: “I don’t think of it as that troublesome. Originally it’s my fault anyway for letting Grides-san think I’m a sketchy person to begin with.”
[Rose]: “But…..there was nothing I could do. She caused you so much distress…….and I could not extract a single apology from her.”
Rose-san’s smile had disappeared before I realized it.
[Rose]: “And now……to my utmost regret, she has unleashed a flood of abuse directly to your face. I should have expressed myself more clearly to her when I had the chance. That you are, my companion.”
Rose-san raised the palms of her hands up to her face like a child about to cry.
[Iris]: “There’s nothing else you could have done. When I had complaints, you listened to me didn’t you? I would have had no other choice than to bear through it if I were on my own, but because you were there for me, I could relax.”
[Iris]: “……so, please cheer up. It is depressing to see you sad.”
Rose-san was thinking about me back then.
It was me behind that smile.
I’m happy understanding that alone. That alone makes me feel a step ahead of the others.
We were sitting close enough that our shoulders could touch, so I could feel Rose-san take a deep breath next to me. And then she plucked a single dendrobium from the water’s surface, and placed it in my hair.
[Rose]: “Fufu, so cute.”
And a smile finally returned to Rose-san’s face.
[Iris]: “Eh, you think so? Well then, I guess I’ll decorate Rose-san’s hair too.”
Rose-san has hair a lot longer than mine. That means I can garnish her with as many flowers as I like.
[Iris]: “Whoa, so beautiful. You look just like a bride.”
I ran out of flowers to work with after I fitted her with over twenty of them. I figured I could fit even more in, so I started glancing around the bath when…….
a shocked expression flew across Rose-san’s face.
[Iris]: “Yes. If you were wearing a dress and a veil, you would be the picture perfect bride.”
I don’t know what it’s like in the capital, but back in Soletta Ritta, it is customary to decorate a bride’s hair with flowers. That’s why there are rarely any weddings in the winter when there aren’t that many flowers available.
[Rose]: “If I am a bride, who am I being wed to?”
A few candidates come to mind.
The first pick would obviously be Saluena. She has a nice face personality aside, and most of all, she’s Rose-san’s sister. As far as my imagination can figure it, she would be the one who looks best at Rose-san’s side.
Next up would be Toslin. She can be a bit stingy with money sure, but she carries an elegance and grace from growing up in a knight’s household. There’s nothing really jarring by having her placed next to Rose-san who is also a noble.
I tried pairing her up with Ashel-sama after that, but it didn’t quite fit in my head.
[Iris]: “I can’t really say since I don’t really know many men that well, but if gender isn’t a problem, it would have to be Saluena. I think you and her look best together.”
[Iris]: “Yes. Oh, can we borrow a dress and have you two stand side by side? Saluena still has what she wore for the audience, and I’m sure if we asked the seamstresses, they could quickly whip something……”
[Rose]: “I-Is there anyone else? Onee-sama and I are sisters, so it is a bit difficult for me to picture it……”
[Iris]: “Then maybe Toslin? No, something feels a little off there. Rose-san is kind and tolerant while she is more rambunctious……..yeah, like a dog…….”
[Iris]: “……sorry, nobody else. There’s Mycena, but I can’t let her have you. That absolutely will not happen. It’s much too wasteful.”
[Rose]: “……i-is that so……”
Huh? Why does Rose-san suddenly look really disappointed? Her smile looks somewhat cloudy…….
Did she want to give Mycena a chance? But I’ve never seen them talk to each other before.
And even if that were the case, it would be a definite no go. I would like Rose-san to stay a bit closer if at all possible.
I don’t want to think about her going off to be someone’s wife right now.
[Iris]: “Oh, how about me then?”
The hot water splashed around me as I was struck with a sudden idea.
[Rose]: “With Iris-san……..?”
I surprised Rose-san. But she smiled immediately afterwards. My brute force approach has caused the cloudiness in her smile to clear away.
[Iris]: “Yep yep. It’d be perfect. I have enough pamper power to take anything Rose-san throws at me.”
[Rose]: “Pfft. And what is pamper power supposed to be?”
[Iris]: “Pamper power is pamper power. Sarah has been training me my whole life, so I would say I have at least ten times the amount of pamper power as an ordinary person. You can spoil me as much as you want whenever you want. It’s a pretty great deal no matter how you think about it.”
I rubbed my cheek against Rose-san’s shoulder, and she responded by turning towards me and tickling my sides.
[Rose]: “Fufufu, you really believe it would be a good idea? You say that, but……”
Rose-san soon stopped her tickling assault and wrapped both her hands around my head.
Both our cheeks were flushed from the hot water, but while my eyes were watery from having laughed so much a second before, her eyes…….struck me as if she were looking into the eyes of a lover. It struck my heart like a bolt from the blue.
[Rose]: “do you really mean it?”
……..where did the fun flirting until now run off to?
It was as if time had stopped, and my whole body was frozen in place.
Rose-san looked deep into my eyes.
And I couldn’t look away.
The strength in her grip around my head……reminds me of back then.
Rose-san slowly drew her face closer to mine without ever breaking her gaze away from my eyes.
When our faces got close enough that I could hear her eyes blinking, she lifted up my chin with one of her fingers.
(Hold…….on? This……is that? Perhaps……no no, there’s no way. She’s not Saluena. But……if we keep going like this, my and Rose-san’s lips are going to……..)
Just when I thought our lips were about to touch, Rose-san moved her head slightly to the side.
I could feel Rose-san’s soft lips press against my cheek before it finally dawned on me that Rose-san had kissed me there.
A k-kiss……..what? What kiss? Why now…….kiss? Maybe Rose-san got swept up in the talk of marriage, and this kiss……is a proposal……..
[Rose]: “I-I….that, yeah….. Today……seeing Iris-san…….made me sad.”
…….and it wasn’t a proposal. I suppose there’s nothing surprising about that. There’s no way she is going to start calling me Iris after a single bath.
[Iris]: “Eh…….sad? What do you mean…….?”
But what about the kiss? There’s no way I can bask in the afterglow of a kiss when she comes out and says something like that.
[Rose]: “W-We might never be able to see each other again, yet you didn’t hesitate to……”
[Iris]: “O-Oh…..but that’s because…..”
[Rose]: “I know. You are confident you will win……right? No, you probably would not have hesitated to say yes even if you were not confident. Because it is for your friend. But even if my brain knows that, my heart…….ached.”
All of the power left Rose-san’s hands. I was able to freely move my head again…..but I didn’t turn away from Rose-san.
[Rose]: “Give me your word. Tell me you will fight for me as well. Tell me you will win for my sake as well. Otherwise…….I will not forgive you. And I will not sleep with you either.”
[Iris]: “E-Eh…..that would be unfortunate.”
[Rose]: “……fufu, is it not? Then, say it. Look me in my eyes. And then, to seal our oath……kiss me back.”
Rose-san’s smile was even softer than what it usually was.
[Iris]: “Wha-, M-Me!?”
[Rose]: “I made a prayer for your victory. So please give me a kiss in return.”
I see, so that’s what the kiss meant?
Huh, Huh…..? I kind of just went with the flow, but somehow this led to me kissing Rose-san. No, even if you say I’m kissing her, it’s just on the cheek right? I’ve done it before to Sarah and Mycena, so it’s normal between good friends, and it’s not that special, and why am I so nervous!?
Here we go, use the momentum. It’s embarrassing because I feel embarrassed. If I simply think of it as not embarrassing…….it’s still embarrassing, but I still have to do it!
[Iris]: “I-I…..I’ll fight for Rose-san……. I’ll definitely win…..so, uh……please watch over me!”
I kissed Rose-san’s cheek, getting as close to her mouth as possible without touching her lips.
[Rose]: “I will. You have my support. So please be sure you come back to me.”
Rose-san had a gentle smile in stark contrast to my excitedly beating heart.
And then she held me as gently as if she were holding a bouquet of flowers…….before then hugging me tightly.