Chapter 7 – A Thorny Briar
“They say that the western continent’s House of Miltan has changed.”
Nabel froze at Ryne’s words. She was looking at Ronée and Ronée was lifting her tea cup, so neither of them noticed.
“Wasn’t it not that long ago that the House of Miltan came into power? After overthrowing the House of Iver.”
That was already a well-known story. Ryne nodded her head. “That’s right, my Lady. But they say that the Emperor was killed in an uprising and his younger brother has ascended to the throne in his place.”
“So there was yet another uprising…” Ronée nodded her head. It was not as uplifting a conversation topic for her young mistress as Ryne had hoped, but she was limited to such stories as she was able to overhear in the household. The other maids did not view Ryne, who served Ronée, favorably, either.
“Yes. They say that divisions keep forming within the House of Miltan itself.”
Having finished arranging the tea leaves, Ryne next bent down to examine Ronée’s hemline. She cut off the part that was burnt black and trimmed it with the practiced hand of one who had carried out the same task more than once before.
Ronée left her to it with an apologetic look. Nabel watched them, locked deep in thought.
“But since there is no one with a mind to overthrow the Miltans, it’s already decided that it will be one of their family who will rule over the western continent.” Ryne’s fingers were nimble, and she continued talking while she worked.
She went on with stories about the legendary forest at the edge of the western continent and the rippling ocean at the edge of their own continent. As people who lived far inland, neither Ryne nor Ronée had ever seen such places.
“Well, that’s trimmed nicely.”
She finished adjusting Ronée’s hemline just as the conversation reached its natural end.
“Don’t you follow us, now.”
Nabel’s expression had remained unchanged the whole time. Of course he had no intention of following Ronée while she went to change her clothes. He took a step back to show that he would not follow them.
Ryne tilted her head thoughtfully as she guided Ronée over to the small room they used as her dressing room.
She had been a maid in service to the nobility for her entire life – as had her mother – so she was well accustomed to the nobility’s tendencies.
It seemed to her experienced eyes that Nabel’s mannerisms and movements were nothing like those of a slave at all. If anything, they were rather those of an aristocrat.
That night was as bright as if it were daytime. Nabel was staring out of the window through which the moonlight was streaming, quietly gazing up at the clouds.
“Shall we go outside?” Ronée suddenly asked. Nabel shook his head, but then stopped and opened his mouth. “…Ah, if you want to.”
Ronée realized he had misunderstood her. “Not me, you. You keep staring out the window. I was wondering if you wanted to go outside.”
“Ah…” Nabel’s heart, which until then had been pounding as though he was nervous, quickly settled down at Ronée’s words. “Then, shall we go out?”
It was night-time, anyway. Even all of the servants should have been sleeping by then.
“Okay. I was also just starting to feel like some fresh air, too,” Ronée replied.
Ryne, who had been listening to the conversation, hurried to prepare for the night-time excursion. She fetched an oil lamp with a little flame burning in it and wrapped a cardigan around Ronée’s shoulders. “It’s still cold out these days, my Lady.”
Ronée nodded. It was the time of year right before spring turned into summer. She also gave Nabel some appropriate over-clothes. They were old and ragged, but Ronée’s room now had a pile of young boy’s clothes for Nabel. It was a small change that his stay there had brought.
Click. Ryne opened the door.
Crunch. The sound of something catching in front of the door came. Ryne jumped and Ronée’s eyes widened. At that moment, Nabel noticed Ronée’s shadow darken again. Just as a pair of pointed ears started to form, her shadow fell still again, like a trick of the light.
Nabel looked at Ronée. Ronée did not look as though she had ever, even in her dreams, seen strange things appearing in her shadow.
They shone the lamp light under the door and all three of their expressions stiffened.
The thing blocking the door was a tangle of thorny vines. It filled the part of the hallway right in front of the door to Ronée’s room.
A thorny briar: the divine symbol of Thuna.
Ronée was so surprised, she could not speak. The briar filling the hallway sent only one message: Do not emerge from that room, accursed one.
“Ah…” Nabel moved in front of the speechless Ronée. He grabbed a vine and tugged at it. It seemed like it would take a long time to clear the whole hallway.
The vine which Nabel had grabbed was particularly thick and sturdy, and its thorns, too, were big and sharp. But Nabel ignored that and yanked it out of the way even though it pricked his skin.
“Don’t touch it, Nabel.” Ronée covered his hand with hers. His hand was already covered in blood. At that moment, their eyes met. When their hands touched, her thoughts were passed on to him more deeply than ever before.
“It’s fine. We don’t have to go outside.”
“It’s okay to give up.”
That was how she had survived in that household. By giving up on her own desires. Nabel gripped the vine firmly. He did not want Ronée to have to give up on the things she wanted anymore. A determined gleam glinted in his eyes.