translated by myonnie
Ebott, the central town of the Southern Allies, was particularly buoyant with the spirit of victory.
Even their own people believed that the hodgepodge of the Allies troops stood no chance against the well-trained imperial army. Yet they won, which pushed the delight of the citizens to a whole new level. This was thanks to Cecilio's command. He had thoroughly studied the empire's war tactics, formulated a strategy, and positioned each tribe in the right places.
The civilians' admiration for Cecilio grew with each passing day.
A single thirty-five years old man, coupled with a handsome face. On top of that, Cecilio was the representative of the Southern Allies. The number of women interested in him continued to increase.
And today too, Ignacio, the chief secretary, would be troubled by that matter.
"Your Excellency, can you spare a little time for the banquet after the tribal chiefs' conference?"
"Banquets will be livelier without superiors."
"It's the opposite. We're swamped with calls from the chief's daughters who want to speak with you."
Cecilio moved his gaze from the papers, his face was as if he just saw something strange.
"Ignacio, it's your job to politely refuse them, isn't it? I don't have time to spend on women right now. You should know that I'm busy dealing with the empire, no?"
"But, Your Excellency, we'll be in trouble if we offend the tribal chiefs..."
Cecilio's blue eyes stared at Ignacio.
"It's true that my role is to bring the chiefs together. But I'm not going to please their daughters for that. My duty is to make them understand that if they don't obey me, it'll be their loss. Anyway, I'll show my face at the banquet, but I'll work here after the greeting."
Cecilio ended the conversation as if to tell him, 'Drop it off'. His head was already full enough with the message he received last night.
It took him around two months, but he finally found the Marquess' daughter.
"I have identified the lady's whereabouts." According to Jose, she was living in a place outside the center of Ebott. The lady and her maid live by selling finely embroidered handkerchiefs and accessories. "However, she conveyed that she doesn't need an apology from His Excellency Cecilio, and she has no intention of meeting anyone."
"No apology or meeting needed, huh?"
As long as she's in the country, claiming the lack of reparation fee would be hard for him. This country now needed funds to rebuild its domestic economy which had been exploited for years. Cecilio thought that the noble lady would return to her country soon, yet contrary to his expectations, she seemed to fully intend to stay in this country.
(The southern people hate the empire. There's no way the daughter of Saint-Leuhan's prime minister can do business here. It'll be a disaster if she dies from a lack of livelihood. I should meet her in person and persuade her to return home.)
Not to say, Cecilio was a little curious about what kind of woman this strong-willed noble lady was.
Ten years after, Cecilio finally had some time to spare from his busy schedule.
The store was located at the far eastern edge of Ebott, in a district where commoners lived.
The skillfully painted handwritten sign written in the letters of this country read, "Embroidery and Accessories: Ursula Flower"
Ursula was a type of vine that grew everywhere in this country, its roots dug up and eaten in times of famine. Despite their incredibly strong fertility, the reddish-purple tufts of the flowers were quite dainty.
Using primary colors for signboards to make them stand out was the norm in this country. And yet, the store's signboard was on an ivory-colored background. The name of the store was written elegantly with smaller fonts in reddish purple, the same color as Ursula flower, and the flowing letters were easy to read.
"I see. Ursula? Does that mean living a strong life?"
Cecilio was dressed in casual attire today. He wore a black shirt, loose-fitting gray pants, and common leather shoes. Ignacio offered to accompany him, but he declined and came alone on horseback.
Before entering the store, his vision caught a sign hanging on the side of the entrance that said, 'Accepting imperial language translation and language tutor.'
Brimming with admiration, Cecilio opened the door and saw ten people in the small store. However, not all of them seemed to be customers; five were practicing their pronunciation while looking at something resembling a notebook at the table.
Their teacher was a woman with light brown hair tied back with braids around her temple to show her face neatly.
"Adan, you don't have to pronounce that part until the last words. Read it again, as if they disappear in your mouth."
"Henna, you're really good. Keep it up."
"Oh my. Milo. If you say it that way, the meaning will change. Instead of asking for chicken meat, you're now asking for a living chicken!"
The girl who was teaching words with a smile should be the Marquess' daughter. She didn't look like the pampered lady he had imagined. She started a conversation with the people of this country with ease, and her pronunciation was on par with the natives of this country. He couldn't hear the imperial accents from her as well.
Seems like she had adjusted to this place in a short time.
Not wanting to get in the way of her work, Cecilio walked around the small store, keeping his ears focused on her.
The store displayed a few embroidered handkerchiefs, a shoulder bag made of cloth used daily by the women of this country, and shawls used as sunshades; all of which were exquisitely embroidered. The small number of items on display made the place seem more like an exhibition hall than a store.
Pinned here and there were cards that say, "We accept embroider requests of your desired design." The designs embroidered on the products were refined in the empire style, they were all beautiful. It's clearly something made by a noble from the empire.
Cecilio moved to the wall on the left after looking at the right side of the long, narrow store, and stopped. The left wall was neatly decorated with accessories such as earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. What surprised Cecilio was the unfamiliar design of the accessories.
In this country, babies had both their ears pierced when they were born. It's the traditional custom for both men and women to wear earrings, usually in the form of small gold or silver round earrings.
Many replaced the earrings with more ornate ones once they reached a certain age and longed for something more stylish. The wealthy wore a gemstone, colored stone, or a metal plate or two. The larger, flashy ones were the trend.
The earrings in this store, however, were made up of small crystals encased in very fine wires. There were also dangle earrings with three to four crystals of different colors and shapes connected with holes drilled in them.
Some were color-coordinated, and the others combined stones with darker colors with translucent ones. All of them had the maker's nameplate attached nearby.
(They're the names of the people of this country. She's not the one making them?)
As Cecilio stared at the accessories in wonder, the lady who he suspected to be Bertine was already standing near him, looking at him with a smile.
"Welcome. Are you looking for a pair of earrings?"
"Oh, um, yeah. The designs are pretty unusual that it surprised me."
Cecilio was too concerned about the ears around him that he somehow failed to mention his name. He didn't want to bring up the reparation fee in this place.
"All of these earrings were made by women whose husbands died in the war. I gave them the materials, and they designed and made these themselves. The money after deducting the cost of the materials and twenty percent of profits will go to the widows. If you find one you like, why not give it as a gift to your wife or lover? I'm sure it'll make the maker and the recipient happy."
"So the war widows made these..."
"Yes. War is life-threatening not only for the soldiers, but also for the families left behind. I hope I can be of some help to the women and children left behind since I received much help when I opened this store."
Cecilio was taken aback.
He never thought that a noble from the empire would live such a jovial life in this country. And what did she mean by receiving much help from the people of this country? He had never expected her to be free from persecution, let alone receive help.
"Mister, this young lady is quite the fearless one. When she first moved in, she interrupted a couple's fight in the neighborhood and defended the wife by yelling at the husband. I still remember her words, 'Hitting and making fun of your wife just because she's a woman is the same as hitting and making fun of your mother. Shame on you!'"
"Isn't that dangerous?"
"I know, right? The neighbors had ignored the quarrel since they thought it was just another marital argument, but they quickly ran into the house when it happened. I mean, no one knew the man was hitting his wife!"
Cecilio was astonished, and the young lady cut in with a calm face. "I have nothing left to lose. A smack or two on my cheeks wouldn't matter anyway."
"Were you hit?" Cecilio asked in fluster, which Bertine thankfully denied as she shook her head.
"No. The neighbors rushed in and stopped the man, so I was safe. When I first came to this country due to circumstances, I had to spend several days without proper food and water. Remembering those times makes it hard to fear anything else. And that couple's quarrel helps me be on very good terms with my neighbors," Bertine explained. She happily continued with the stories of her neighbors helping her advertise the store.
One of the people who had joined the conversation was staring at Cecilio's face. Then realization dawned on them as their expression morphed into shock. Cecilio gestured with a very minuscule shake of his head, 'Don't expose my identity!'
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