To Leave No Regrets

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“So~ The two of them and their family all escaped the death penalty~?”
“Yes, all thanks to King Rosseaeu .”

It was the night after my audience with King Rousseau.
As I lay in bed, I had my usual late night chat with Catherine.
With our candles already out, all that could be heard in the dark room was our voices and… The sound of Catherine sucking on candy.

“Catherine! Stop eating candy after you’ve already brushed, you’ll be sure to get cavities!”
“Yup, that’s true~”
“That’s true~? Are you really listening to me? I checked your jar earlier, and you’ve already eaten half of it!”

It was a rather large jar as well, so this wasn’t an insignificant half.

“I can’t help it, they’re so yummy~”
“… Oh really, well I’m so glad to hear.”

I realized that it didn’t matter no matter what I said, so I moved on and tucked myself in.

“Putting that aside~ Are you really okay with this?”

Catherine chose that moment to broach the subject.
As she usually did, she hung herself upside down from her bunk and spoke.

“What do you mean?”
“Are you really… Not going to see Lene off?”
“… Well, yeah.”

With a conflicted expression, I nodded.

I was sure that Lene had her own reasons for what she did, but it wasn’t as though I could just forgive her.
Even the fact that she and her family had escaped capital punishment was a result of kindness akin to a miracle.
That should be more than enough for her.
While I felt some responsibility having been her employer, I didn’t feel the obligation to meet her now.

“Oh come on, you know deep down you want to~”
“Shut it, Catherine.
I’m going to sleep.”
“Ah, always running away~”

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“… You… Don’t you think you’re taking after that commoner a little too much?”

Though, come to think of it, Catherine did always have this side to her.

“Hey Claire-chan.”
“What now?”
“If you don’t go, I’m sure you’ll regret it~”
“I won’t.”
“You will, you absolutely will.”
“On what basis.”

When I lashed back at her and dug my heels, for some reason, Catherine flashed a pained smile.
It was the first time I had seen her make such an expression.

“I know, Claire-chan, because something similar has already happened.
And you still regret that, don’t you?”

Catherine referenced the event in a roundabout way, but it was obvious what she was talking about.
She was referring to the day my mother and I parted.

“Having something you wanted to say, but forever losing the chance―Don’t you think that experiencing that kind of regret once is already more than enough~?”

Catherine maintained a gentle tone.
That gentleness worked its way in to soften my rigid heart.

“But I’d never be allowed to.
She’s a mere servant and she’s committed grave crimes… If the other nobles caught wind of it, I’d never hear the end of it…”
“Huh? Have you always been one to concern yourself over gossip~? I mean, Claire-chan, I’m sure you already know how the others refer to you behind your back~”

― The Villainess.
That’s how I was known among a portion of the loose lipped nobility.

“Don’t you already know that some things are more important than vanity~?”
“Appearances and formalities are not insignificant to nobility.”

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“That may be true~ But even then, don’t you think that there are priorities to consider~?”

So in the end, it came down to how important Lene was to me.

“I mean…”
“You mean~?”
“I mean… Of course I’d want to go and say farewell!”
“Yup~ Well said.”

When I managed to speak from my heart, Catherine offered me a gentle smile.

“I’m sure Lene-chan thinks the same~ She wants you to come, but there’s no way you will.
No, she even understands that there’s no way that you can.”
“That’s exactly why you should go.
Go and directly tell her how you feel, I’m sure that’d be for the best.”

Catherine put on a huge smile.

“But, what should I even say…?”
“That doesn’t matter, say whatever comes to mind.
Something like, you’ve served me well, or, I wish you the best in your new life.
Even something as simple as that is more than enough~ But you mustn’t let her leave without saying anything~”
“Is that what you think?”

Her mysterious aloof confidence made me think that really may be the case.

“If you’d rather not go alone, you should just take Rei-chan with you~”
“That commoner?”
If it’s her, I think she’ll be able to give both of you the push you need~ After all, Claire-chan, when push comes to shove, you’re a bit of a chicken.”
“Hmph, really not holding back, are you.”

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It was frustrating, but I couldn’t deny it.

“… Do you think I’ll be able to give her a proper farewell?”
“You will, I know you will.
It’s Claire-chan and Lene-chan after all, I’ve watched over the two of you this whole time, so I guarantee it.”
“Hmph, quite the claim from someone who’s hid herself whenever Lene’s come by for the last couple of years now.”
“Ahaha, I do feel bad about that~”

Catherine burst into laughter.
Drawn in by her energy, I smiled too.

“Whether you laugh or cry tomorrow~ It’s important that you two share a proper farewell~ The two of you have to overcome it.
Think of it as a sacred rite so that the two of you can face tomorrow~”
“Quite talkative today, aren’t you Catherine?”

She was normally the type to keep to herself, so when I pointed that out, for a moment she looked surprised.
The change caught my attention, but in an instant she was back to smiles so I thought that it was just my imagination.

“I mean, it’s about my dear dear Claire-chan~ Of course I’d be a bit more talkative~”
“Oh really now.”
“Yes of course, really.
I’d even swear it on the Great Spirit if you’d like~?”
“I don’t particularly mind either way.”
“Aw, come on, just let me~”
“Why are you the one begging me to make that oath?”
“Oops, hehe~”

Catherine was as elusive as ever.
Yet, mysteriously, I was able to trust that she truly wished the best for me from the bottom of her heart.

“If you really do treasure me so dearly, Catherine, won’t you accompany me as well?”
“No can do~”
“Why not?”
“My father wouldn’t allow it~ He operates entirely on appearances and formalities after all~”
“You’re just saying whatever’s convenient to you!”

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“But, it’s the truth.”
“… You’re right.”

As I spoke, I recalled my audience with Clément-sama just the other day.
That man was certainly very particular about appearances and formalities, but that wasn’t all.
He was an apparition―a monster―an incarnation born from the malice within noble society and its customs.

“Claire-chan, you’re making a tough face again.”
“It’s nothing you should concern yourself with.”
“Well, I think I more or less know what you’re thinking~ But I think it’d be best if you didn’t imagine your foes to be bigger than they really are~”
“… I’ll take that to heart.”

Catherine gave me a serious look.

“So, Claire-chan, you’re going to see her off, right~?”
“… Yes, fine, I’ll go.”
“Yup, that’s how my Claire-chan ought to be~!”
“Really, I just can’t seem to get the better of you, Catherine.”
“I wouldn’t mind if you flattered me some more, you know~?”
“That wasn’t flattery.”
“I know~”

With a bubbly cackle, Catherine pulled her upper body back onto her own bed.
I could hear her shuffling around to tuck herself in, so I did the same.

“I get that it might be a bit tough~”
“But it’d be nice if you could send her off with a smile~”
“… Yes, I think so too.”

A few days later, I received an official notice confirming the day that the Orso family would be exiled from the kingdom.

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