After discussing the commoner’s movement with the other members of the Order and debating political systems with Yuu-sama, we made our way to the cafeteria.
I was with Lene, Misha… and that commoner.
Popular as ever, Yuu-sama was called away by some girls and went off on his own.

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The commoner walked in front of me, tugging me by the hand.
As seemed to be the norm for her, she wore a carefree expression devoid of thought.
I was certain that Lene had a lot on her mind, but she never let it show.
Despite the fact that these two wore a similar expression, there was a stark difference between them.
Really though, life must be so easy and carefree as a commoner.

“Hey, little missies! What’ll ya have today?”

When we arrived at the cafeteria a member of the kitchen staff called out to us.
As one may be able to tell from his peculiar intonation, he was not a native Bauan citizen.
I heard that he once worked as a chef in the Empire, but, unable to bear life there, he fled to Bauer as a refugee.
I was sure that all of the citizens of the empire lived oppressed under a terrible tyranny.

“I’ll go with a beef bowl!”
“I would like a beef bowl too, please.”
“For me as well.”

The commoner, Lene and Misha all ordered the same meal.
While it did not suit my tastes, the beef bowl, a recent addition to the cafeteria’s menu just earlier this year, seemed to have garnered quite the popularity.

“I’ll have the beef stew set.”
“Do ya want bread or rice with that?”
“The bread please.”
“Comin’ right up!”

I would much prefer a high class meal befitting my stature, but the academy could not offer that, so I settled for a safe option.
We waited in a line for our meals to be prepared.

The cafeteria meals were not made to order, but prepared in advance and set aside to be heated and served.
In short order, we received our meals and found seats.

““““Thank you for the food.””””

Completing the usual mealtime formalities, we began eating.
As the stew was pre-made, the vegetables had already begun to lose their shape and were mushy, but as a result, the flavors had also blended well into the roux, so it wasn’t bad.

“So, Rei… What are your thoughts on today’s discussions?”
“Hm? Which discussions?”

Misha carried rice with her spoon while tactfully broaching the subject before enjoying a bite, but the commoner played the fool.

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“Misha-sama, by today’s discussions do you mean the ones with Yuu-sama and the others?”
“Yes, that’s right Lene.
Also, no need for formalities with me, I’m a commoner just like you.”
“This is just how I set my boundaries, please pay it no mind.”
“Is that so… I understand.
Hm, actually, I’d like to hear your thoughts on it as well, Lene.”
“Mine? Well…”

Setting her spoon to the side, Lene appeared to be deep in thought.

“If it’s too difficult to answer, would you mind if I asked more specific questions?”
“Ah, please go ahead.”
“Thank you.
Then first, do you admire the noble’s lifestyle?”

She asked her question while gathering the red ginger in her beef bowl with her spoon.

“I wouldn’t really say so, no.
I already have the opportunity to serve Claire-sama who stands at the very pinnacle of nobility after all.”
“I see… So you’re already accustomed to the noble’s day to day lifestyle, and it’s no longer an object of admiration.
But because you’ve gotten such a close look, aren’t you especially prone to feel envy toward the economic gap?”
“Hmm, that may be what would happen under normal circumstances, but in my case, my own family is pretty well off..
Though obviously not as well off as Claire-sama’s…”
“… I see, while you’re a commoner, it seems your lifestyle is already exceedingly close to a noble’s.”
“I haven’t acquired the refinement and formalities that true nobles require though.”

Lene picked up her spoon and resumed eating.

“How about you, Rei? Do you admire the noble’s lifestyle?”
“Why not? Have you gotten accustomed to the lifestyle through your service to Claire as well?”
“No, it’s not that.
I just want a lifestyle that suits me.
Living a life of luxury just isn’t for me.”

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“My, what an admirable thing for you to say, commoner.”
“Praise me more, Claire-sama!”
“Is that all it takes to get you carried away…”

I immediately regret my words.
It was also then that I noticed Relaire waiting on the table expectantly, so I tore a chunk from my bread and offered it to her.

“Do you really mean that? Or is that some sort of front?”
“I mean it.
Even this food from the academy’s cafeteria is plenty luxurious to someone like me.
Especially compared to the beef bowls I would’ve had in my past life―cough, hack, forget I said that.”
“Is that so…”

With a complex expression on her face, Misha lifted her spoon, filled with red ginger, to her mouth.

“What are your thoughts on this, Misha? You were once a noble, haven’t you ever thought that you might like to return to that lifestyle?”

Misha didn’t offer an immediate response.
Whether that was because the red ginger did not suit her tastes, or because she wanted time to collect her thoughts, I could not tell.

“Well, it’s not a thought that often crosses my mind.”
“Then you mean to say that it sometimes does?”
“Yes, well, only in very rare, fleeting moments.”
“What might those moments be?”
“My apologies, Claire-sama, it’s a personal matter so I’m unable to say.”
“… I see.”

Despite Misha’s non-answer, I had some suspicions of my own.
The rare, fleeting moments that Misha mentioned were likely when she was unable to suppress her thoughts about a potential relationship with Yuu-sama.
The commoner had a tendency to state it in a vulgar way, but it appeared that Misha’s affections for Yuu-sama were genuine.
Now that she had lost her status as a noble, it was impossible for her love to bear fruit, but love wasn’t so easily thrown away.

“Returning to the matter at hand, Claire-sama, are there any tenets of the commoner’s movement that you can agree with?”
“None, absolutely none.
Their words are but senseless prattle.”

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I instantly cut down the question.
After hearing Catherine’s words, I tried to imagine a variety of scenarios, but my conclusions didn’t change.

“In that case, what are your thoughts on the impoverished commoners?”
“If one is poor, one simply needs to earn their wage.
Isn’t that obvious?”
“But it’s not like all work is made equally available to all people…”

Misha maintained a difficult expression as she fed her red ginger to Relaire.

It’s not as though nobles are able to do what they like and chase their dreams either.
Birth, bloodline, ability, connections―wouldn’t you say reality is but a struggle for survival where all of those factors come into play?”
“So, Claire-sama, you mean to say that the notion of equality is…”
“But lip service.”

I paused for a spoonful of stew before continuing.

“It would of course be for the best if the gap between the rich and poor were smaller, and I believe that striving for such a reality is the hallmark of a truly great ruler, but in the end, it is but a lofty ideal.”
“What is it, Lene?”
“… Do you recall the words that Miria-sama once said?”

Did my mother ever once comment on the commoner’s movement?

“Which words do you mean?”
“The ones about ideals and reality.”

I suddenly recalled my mother’s words.

『Claire? Listen closely.
Especially as a noble, one must not forsake their ideals and find contentment in reality.
As a member of House François, you must hold your ideals high and put them to practice.』

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Those were the words that my mother often said to me, long ago, when she was still with me.
I only now realized that I had forgotten those words somewhere along the way.

“Lene, is there something more specific you intend to say?”
“… No, Claire-sama, it’s nothing.”

With her gaze now downcast, Lene finished her beef bowl.

“I’ll go on ahead and prepare for your return later tonight.
Take care, Misha-sama.
Claire-sama, Rei-chan, I’ll see you two later.”

With that, Lene gathered her tableware and quickly returned them to the kitchen.
It appeared that I had somehow upset Lene, and that made me quite uncomfortable.

“Don’t worry, Claire-sama.”

At that moment, it was the commoner who called out to me.
With no heed to table etiquette, she continued to speak even as her mouth was stuffed full.

“It’s not like Lene means to criticize you, Claire-sama.
It’s the opposite, she’s expecting something.”
“She expects something? Just what could she be expecting?”
“That you might be able to do something about the current situation, Claire-sama.”

I was unable to grasp what the commoner was trying to say.
No, I mean, she was always difficult for me to understand, but this was different.

“What exactly is it that you want me to do?”
“That’s something that you have to think about for yourself, Claire-sama.”
“… Didn’t we have a similar exchange before?”
“Who knows, did we?”

The commoner again played the fool, leaving me with no options.

Lene is expecting something from me? That I might change the current situation? What exactly did they mean by the current situation in the first place?

It would be a long time before I could understand the current issues society was facing in the same way that Lene, Misha, and even the commoner, understood them on that day.

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