translated by: myonnie
Upon arrival, Cecilio Bonifacio's residence turned out to be a building without an ounce of elegance.
"This one is also quite amazing, My Lady."
"Rather than a residence, this..."
...Is more like a fortress, Bertine swallowed those words. Since this would be her home, she decided to refrain from voicing unwarranted judgment.
A young man came through the front door. Accompanied by no one else. Bertine got out of the carriage, wondering if he would be His Excellency Cecilio, yet none of the servants lined up to welcome them even though the bride had arrived.
The young man stood before Bertine and introduced himself.
"I'm Ignacio, Chief Secretary of the Allies. Are you Lady Bertine de Juan?"
"Yes, that'll be me."
"We've prepared a room for you. Let's head there first."
Bertine gave a small nod and started walking, though her guts were telling her that Ignacio was acting peculiar. Like he wasn't welcoming her at all.
"The bride has arrived, yet His Excellency won't come and greet me?"
"I will explain."
Ignacio replied, keeping his eyes forward without breaking stride. The room they were guided to was a guest room, clearly not one for the landlord's wife. The expressionless maid brought tea and sweets and quickly left the room, leaving only three people inside.
"There are two things I have to tell you. First, His Excellency isn't present at the moment. He departed to another region afflicted with flooding. We don't know when he'll return."
There's no helping it if it's urgent, Bertine thought. "I see."
"The second thing. I can see that Young Lady is having a misunderstanding, so let me correct it. The Allies don't desire anyone from the empire's side to be His Excellency's marriage partner. What we demand in this war is a reparation fee, not a bride."
"But the defeated side is..."
"Therefore, I would like Young Miss to return to your country as soon as you have recovered from the travel fatigue."
Bertine was too stunned to reply.
The people of Saint-Leuhan lacked awareness that they were involved in the war. They only saw their contribution as, 'The Empire has been treating us quite well, that's why our country should help them with military funds.' Naturally, it created a big gap between the Allies' perceptions.
According to Bertine's father and brother, Saint-Leuhan's crown prince offered to support the Empire financially and bear the payment if they lose the war. And now, they decided to send Bertine in exchange for a reduction in the reparation fee.
It stemmed from the thought, 'Let's give the barbaric country our esteemed noble lady. The honor should be enough to have the reparations reduced accordingly.'
Did the Allies' rejection arrive too late before I left the country? A question passed Bertine's mind, whilst she was bitter at the meaningless of it now.
"I have come here with the intention of devoting my life to work together with His Excellency for the development of this country. But you're saying that it's unnecessary, correct?"
"Unfortunately, that seems to be the case."
There's no way I'll go home.
It's crystal clear that Bertine would suffer an ill reputation if she was to return home now as "a noble unable to serve the country," "rejected bride," and "defective lady". The malicious gossip might also jeopardize her father and brother's position. Not to say, how would the prince, who decided on this marriage, react to her unfruitful return? The punishment was enough to make her throw the choice out the window.
"I understand the situation. Then, I'll withdraw my position as a bride. But I can't just agree to go home simply because the Allies don't need me. I came here by His Majesty's order. Please give me some time to think about the future."
Bertine, clutching her trembling hands tightly, straightened her back and requested with a smile pasted on her face. The only thing holding Bertine together was her desire not to show her unsightly appearance. If not for the rigorous manner education hammered to her, she would have already fainted at any moment.
"That's acceptable. Then I'll have you stay in this guest room until His Excellency return, and then ask him to decide on what will happen after that."
"Please allow me to do so. I appreciate it."
Bertine put on a brave, determined face until the end, but her body gave up once Ignacio left the room, her back slumping to the backrest. She had used up all her energy in that short period of time. Dorothee immediately rushed over and held her hand.
"What a shock, Dorothee. Did Saint-Leuhan know that His Excellency Ceciliio refused to marry? At least the empire should've known, right? Have they conveyed the message to our country?"
"I don't know anything, My Lady. But I know that this is too much!"
"I no longer have a place to stay."
For the time being, selling the gold coins and jewelry that Bertine's parents handed to her should guarantee her survival. Spending the remaining of her life just eating and breathing would allow it to be a quite long one. But her life had fallen to the ground, murky with mud.
Sold by the empire and her home country, deemed unnecessary by the Allies. The citizens of this country wouldn't look at her, someone from the enemy country, in a favorable light.
"What should I do?"
The manners of the nobles which had been drilled into her since she started walking.
The knowledge of history, culture, and foreign languages she learned as the marquess' daughter.
The numerous dances she learned while enduring the ache of her feet.
The knowledge of business dealings she desperately mastered.
All of it was for nothing. Like her life and very existence up until now were all discarded.
"I can't believe this is happening..."
It was when Bertine's mind began sinking into the slough of despond, her face a blank slate.
A commotion filled the hallway, a voice of dispute. Then a young woman threw the door open and dashed straight in.
"Who are you? Not even a knock; please know your manners!"
Dorothee stood up and firmly warned the woman, but she was left ignored as the woman walked up to Bertine without sparing a glance at the maid. Bertine made no move from the backrest, only raising her head to look at the intruder.
"Hey, you! Are you a woman from the empire?"
"And if so?"
"Sounds like you shamelessly came all the way after losing the war and had the audacity to make Lord(1) Cecilio marry you?"
"Whatever I came to this country for, it doesn't concern you. Leave at once," Bertine dully answered, posture still languid as she rested her back.
The dark-haired woman then stomped her foot and snapped, her hands on her hips. "Of course it concerns me. I am Lord Cecilio's fiancee. We're getting married soon. I'm entitled to my opinion, unlike a hag(2) from the defeated country who has no right to tell me to leave!"
Bertine stared at the woman's whole body with no reservation, unbothered.
"Right. So you're His Excellency's fiancee. I see now. If His Excellency prefers a loud, uncouth girl, then I certainly don't suit his taste. But I have Sir Ignacio's permission to stay. Go find him if you have a problem with that. Since you're his fiancee, then you're not from this residence. Now leave this room," Bertine spat, standing straight up right in front of the woman and puffing out her chest. Her face was so close a small bump was enough to make them touch.
The woman's appearance was around sixteen, seventeen years old. Her skin and hair were glossy, her body radiating vitality.
"I repeat; leave at once. Or do I have to slap those cheeks until they know how to listen?"
"W-What!? Are you picking a fight with me?"
Bertine picked up the fan that her fan on the table. Provoked, the girl was about to pounce at her. The guards, who had been standing and watching finally scurried, surrounding the girl and ushering her out of the room. Dorothee wasted no time locking the door, and Bertine collapsed on the sofa again. A screech still reverberated from the other side of the door.
(Did he already have a fiancee? If she's a jealous, proud noble lady, then it won't be strange for me to die now after having her stab my throat with a dagger until I die.)
While thinking so, Bertine remembered the young lady's words. In all her life, she never had someone lash out at her with such disrespectful words. Once again she was reminded of her worth in this country. But the feeling of hurt now took shape with a wave of flaring anger.
(Am I going to die just like this after being cursed by that little girl? Am I going to let her dance in victory on my grave!)
Bertine sat on the sofa and closed her eyes. And then she contemplated.
How long had the time passed? Dorothee watched in silence, anxiously clasping her hands on her chest. Around the time sunlight streaming in through the window had quite changed its position, a single door in Bertine's heart slammed shut. No longer she found her place in the glittering world beyond the door.
"I have decided."
I can't rely on my parents nor my status anymore. But just accepting my death like that? I'll show you I can live in this country and gain power.
Until I'm strong enough that no one can hurt me. My home country that sold me, that impolite girl, and my fiancee who said no word of comfort until the end.
Bertine snatched the long chilled tea on the table and emptied the cup in a gulp.
- セシリオ様, 'Cecilio-sama'; I'm personally not the biggest fan of not translating honorifics... and since the novel isn't in a modern Japanese setting it feels even more jarring. I can see this decision biting me back in the future, but we'll see... orz
- 年増女; usually refers to women past their prime age. It's 35-49 in general, but also varies depending on the era. I assume nobility back then should be younger than now (with debutantes being 16-21 years old)
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