Akuyaku Reijou ni Koi wo Shite:
“Even the Villainess has gentle days sometimes.”
He didn’t know whether it was fate or the influence of the game settings, but Rion carried hatred towards the absurd power controlling this world anyhow.
He must never let Ariel and Maria come in contact with each other. Rion worked hard with that thought in mind, but in the end, it was futile.
The girls always end up clashing against each other about every little thing. The blame did not lie with Rion’s inability to separate them. It was all due to Maria’s expectation that the more she clashed with Ariel the more her relationship with Arnold would develop causing her to proactively seek confrontation. Maria’s goal was making Ariel angry, to provoke public chastisements.
With things moving in Maria’s desired direction, no matter how hard Rion tried, attempting to prevent those clashes would be a struggle.
Furthermore, the more the surroundings become aware of those confrontations, the more the event proceed in the direction that Rion did not want them to.
Before Ariel even knew it, the students carrying animosity towards Maria had made her their standard bearer and used the fact to increase the severity of their own harassment. They even went as far as to act as if it was Ariel who ordered them to do so.
As far as Rion was concerned the situation was getting worse, but to Maria, it was the opposite.
Rion’s mind, preoccupied with these thoughts, was forcefully brought back to reality by Ariel pinching his cheeks.
「Why are you making such a grim face?」
「Just thinking about some things, milady.」
「Even though I should be the focus of your attention?」
「I… I-It’s related to milady.」
「I was musing on how to bridge the divide between Lady Ariel and His Highness.」
It was a lie, but only partly. That being one of the things always present in his mind was the truth.
In the end that, was one of the solutions he arrived at. By making the Crown Prince Arnold not consider canceling their marriage, the bad ending would be avoided. From Rion’s perspective Maria, being an obstacle to reaching good outcomes, should be disposed of, but he also had to think about the next course of action if that plan ended in failure.
The only thing that he could think of was to improve Ariel’s relationship with Arnold.
「…Really, that subject again.」
「I can’t help it, milady」
「Does being with me bore you to that extent?」
「Then keep me company properly. Stop looking past me to other things.」
「I shall. But is it really fine to spend time with me instead of His Highness?」
「…The prospect of more time with prince Arnold is not interesting at all.」
「It is… not?」
Displeasure crept up onto Ariel’s face. It seems she was not pleased with Rion bringing up Arnold all the time.
「Accompanying His Highness would not be enjoyable.」
「There is no need to say things like this so loud milady.」
「I raised my voice to make you hear clearly. I do not wish to visit the Lounge, it will only worsen my mood.」
「…Is that so.」
Even though at first Ariel would always head towards the Lounge just to greet the Crown Prince, now she wouldn’t even take a step in that direction.
With Maria’s conquests going smoothly, the Lounge turned into a place for Maria and the male students belonging to her reverse harem. One after another, the boys would whisper sweet words in order to attract her attention. Just looking at that made Rion’s mood sour too.
The only good thing there was that Arnold didn’t belong to that circle. Rion took that as a sign that he was not completely captured yet which was exactly why he thought there still was a chance.
「Would milady prefer me to invite him here instead?」
「And what makes you think that Crown Prince would deign to visit a cafeteria?」
「…That does seem improbable.」
Currently, Ariel and Rion were in the Academy’s cafeteria. This place was indeed not somewhere that a crown prince would visit, but to be fair, the same could be said about someone like Ariel.
Only commoners used the cafeteria, the odd noble to be spotted there would invariably belong to the lowest noble class. Even though that was the case, no one there would dare to look coldly on a true aristocrat sharing a table with her valet or voice a complaint about that happening.
This was the exact reason Rion and Ariel started coming there for conversations.
However, lack of criticism didn’t equal to lack of attention. There was no way people would ignore Ariel who was not only beautiful but also from a powerful family. That was especially true for the male students.
Many of them thought to use the opportunity in order to strike a conversation with her, but regarding their intentions, Ariel was as thickheaded as Rion.
This was also partly a result of her somewhat haughty attitude making her care little of what her surroundings think, but fortunately, that was not noticeable to people who didn’t even manage to establish a conversation with her.
In the end, a rumor with little grounding in reality arose describing her as an amiable person that would even use the cafeteria despite her status.
Not that Ariel had the slightest bit of interest in that either.
「Rion, would you happen to know what is occupying my older brother today?」
It wasn’t just Ariel that used this place, but Vincent as well. He also longed for the relaxed relationship that the three of them had when they were in the mansion.
「Lord Vincent is studying, milady.」
「…Oh, I see, the exams are coming indeed.」
「Yes, milady. If he wants to raise his rank any more, he needs to work hard, so this is not unexpected.」
「From you way of talking, you are confident he will succeed, aren’t you?」
「As brazen as it sounds, I consider his results merely satisfactory.」
「He was rated fifteenth at the last round of exams, he should really aim to enter top ten at once.」
Vincent was able to steadily raise his ranking. His current results were rather surprising for someone being called as the failure of the House Windhill.
「Just fifteenth? You are right, my brother should put more effort into it. 」
Ariel was such a superior younger sister that it made Vincent cry at times.
「This is exactly why he resolved to try even harder this time.」
「I see. What about Rion?」
「Milady? I am not subject to exams?」
「I know that. I was asking if you are really fine with not studying.」
「Once Lord Vincent is done studying a subject, he lends me his notes and books.」
「Are you able to understand everything with just that?」
「I think I am doing fine.」
「I see. Let’s ask a question then.」
「A small test to see if you really do learn. Hmm, what should I ask about…」
Ariel was having fun trying to come up with a question. Because this was something they also used to do back at the mansion, being able to spend time this way again was enjoyable to her.
「Ah, now that I think about it… This is not a question, but there is something I’d like Rion’s opinion on.」
「Do you agree with the idea of 『A small sacrifice for the greater good』?」
「More or less.」
「Can you explain what do you mean by that?」
「The idea is broad, which aspect of it is milady interested in?」
「Those that are to stand at the top of the society are taught to be ready to sacrifice small things for the greater good of all. What can be considered small is, however, often glossed over. Which things are small enough? Is it really fine to discard them just because they appear insignificant? 」
「Milady… This… This is a hard topic. 」
Topics like those alway caused Ariel’s sincerity to resurface. This particular idea didn’t fit with her sense of responsibility as a powerful aristocrat.
That was exactly why Rion was finding it hard to formulate an answer. Although Ariel’s way of thinking could be considered righteous, he knew that finding a practical manner of applying it in life was the hard part.
「I do not, personally, believe that there is a right answer to these questions. I’m just asking what Rion thinks of this.」
Faced with that, he had to come up with an answer now.
「Don’t look for an answer that you think will make me happy. Just honestly say what you think about this.」
Ariel was really sharp in those kinds of moments.
「I… Alright. Let me start by saying there’s nothing I hold as more important than other things.」
「Rion, there’s nobody that can confidently state such a thing.」
「Still, I believe it to be true milady. I have nothing I put a particular priority on. What’s more, my hands are full of small problems that don’t stop coming.」
「But that, in a way, is also good. There was a proverb I heard some time ago I think is apt here 『There are no unimportant threads in a tapestry』.」
This was actually a quote from Ryou’s favorite historical essay that was present at the back of Rion’s mind. The sole hobby of Ryou, who struggled for money, was to read. He used all means necessary to borrow his favorite history book series in the library.
His arguments when talking with Ariel and Vincent about topics like this were based on those books.
「What does that mean?」
「It means that no problems are truly small. Overlooking something that seems trivial now, might lead to huge consequences later on.」
「Doesn’t the proverb stand in direct opposition to our discussion topic then?」
「Somewhat. But in the end, they complement each other nicely.」
「This ties to Lady Ariel’s initial question. Which matters are trivial? Aren’t all, even small, problems important in the end? 」
「What could be considered “trifling” in that case?」
「In my opinion… Things like pride for example.」
「Did I hear that correctly?」
Ariel’s eyebrows knitted when she heard Rion’s words. An aristocrat’s pride, that was one of the things that Ariel considered very important.
「I believe that if pride is at stake when protecting something important, one should set it aside.」
「Set it aside… As in discarding one’s status?」
「If that was the only way to save the fief, what would milady do?」
「I’m sorry, that example was rather extreme.」
「No, I do get what you are saying. but…」
Protecting the fiefdom was an aristocrat’s responsibility. Even if she had that sort of mindset, it would still be hard for Ariel to consider discarding her position.
「I see the question is troubling. In that case, why don’t we first determine what pride is?」
「Is high social status alone worth being proud of?」
「…It is not. Even if one falls from grace retaining proper poise and noble conduct is equally worth being proud about.」
「That is so. I believe it is important that Lady Ariel is of House Windhill. But having a resolve to consider that trivial and discard it when necessity calls, isn’t that even more important? 」
「I understand. I will bear Rion’s words in mind.」
「My ideas are not necessarily correct, giving them undue weight may be unwise.」
「…That is true. However, on reflection, I happen to agree with what you said.」
Rion’s face turned red from embarrassment. He felt ashamed about conveying his points to Ariel in such a self-important manner. The truth is, this was the second time that this has happened to him.
「So Rion, does this make you Ariel’s new tutor from now on?」
The reason for Rion’s other embarrassing memory arrived. He became even more flustered but even though he was still shaken, he immediately left his seat and vacated the chair in front of Ariel.
「Sir, have you gotten hungry?」
「Correct, that’s why I came.」
「In that case, I shall arrange a meal immediately.」
Just like that, Rion went to the counter to order and prepare Vincent’s food. It was also a convenient moment to regain his composure.
「Older brother, are you really done with your studies?」
Ariel was displeased because her conversation with Rion was interrupted.
「I am currently stuck and can’t seem to make any progress, so I came here for a change of mood.」
「Be honest, isn’t that just an excuse?」
「It is. But the desire to refresh my head is not a lie.」
「Leaving that aside for a moment, your discussion just now seemed rather difficult.」
「Rion’s argument was rather complex, but the topic was something that randomly came to my mind.」
「Well, the outcome was rather good.」
「It was. And I found it easier to agree with Rion’s views than with my teacher’s.」
「He does have that side to him. It made me learn a lot of things too.」
「Oh, is that so?」
「Earlier I experienced an event that was practical application of your discussion topic, I think that was what caused me to start changing.」
That exact incident was a source of Rion’s embarrassment.
「I managed to put aside something unimportant that was weighing on me greatly.」
「Older Brother, stop being so vague.」
「I discarded silly things like shame and vanity. The whole persona of Vincent the heir, with its unwanted baggage.」
Vincent’s words shocked Ariel. She was really looking forward to seeing how he would go about governing the fief. In this, she had Rion’s support so far.
「Relax, I am just talking about that specific mentality.」
「Sister. Hear me, please. At first, I thought I would get everything just by being an heir, that I deserve everything I want. Rion showed me that this way of thinking is wrong. That the role of heir demands as many sacrifices as it grants boons.」
「Nobody wants to get to know me, they all desire to know the future lord Windhill. People don’t bow because they respect me, they bow in front of the heir of the House. No one really cares for Vincent, to see beyond the title he carries.」
This was true both here and in the Windhill mansion. Ariel was aware that even though the staff showed superficial respect, deep inside they all mocked her brother.
「This is not true for the closest family of course, but for others, the only important thing is the role I represent.」
「…I …can’t disagree. But this is not unexpected.」
「It is not. But thanks to Rion I am aware of that now and I understand the consequences.」
It has been a long time since Ariel had a one-on-one conversation with her brother. His growth vastly exceeded her expectations.
That was thanks to Rion who… Was currently intimately conversing with a female student at the cafeteria counter?
Ariel couldn’t help but notice that they were really getting along.
「I-I am certain he does that for our sake sister.」
Vincent, having realized what was going on, tried to cover for his valet in panic.
「Oh, I’m sure he does. But he doesn’t have to do it right now, does he?」
「That… True… But…」
「Oh. He’s coming back now.」
「He is? Does he have a death wish?!」
Rion, unaware of the rage blooming inside Ariel, came back to the table with that female student in tow of all things.
「I apologize for making you wait, sir.」
「Ah n-no… I-It wasn’t long.」
「Sir, is something amiss?」
「You… Really… Who is the lady behind you?」
Vincent asked trying hard not to look at Ariel sitting in front of him with a murderous “You, go ask him.” stare.
「Oh, this is Miss Mia. There is something she’s really keen to do, so I invited her to come with me.」
Rion kept being completely oblivious to the reason behind Vincent’s nerves.
「Isn’t there a better time for these things?」
「I thought about it, sir, but came to a conclusion it might as well happen now.」
「…In Ariel’s presence?」
「Wouldn’t it be impossible if milady was not here? I’m sorry milord, but this is all very confusing. Miss Mia is here exactly because she really wants to talk to her.」
「She really seems to look up to Lady Ariel and if short conversation is impossible she hoped to at least shake milady’s hand.」
「…She’s admiring me?」
Ariel’s clouded face underwent a complete change, faced with a situation she could not comprehend, she looked completely mystified.
「Yes, milady. That seems to be the case.」
The female student replied awestruck.
「Would you really be content with a handshake?」
Ariel’s words stirred the air in the cafeteria.
Mia was keenly aware of that, but still timidly reached out with her hand.
「Oh come on now, there’s no need to be scared like that. Let us shake hands.」
Ariel reached out as well and shook the hand of the hesitating girl.
「…Thank you very much!」
「W-Why are you so happy…」
Mia’s excitement caused Ariel to turn red from embarrassment.
「Forgive my lapse, lady, that was terribly rude of me.」
While Ariel was still embarrassed, Mia’s nervousness faded away. She timidly began a conversation as if her previous stiffness was a lie.
「Why would I find words of honest praise rude?」
「Truly? Oh, thank goodness.」
「…Won’t you take a seat?」
The surrounding atmosphere became even more charged than before.
「Is it really fine?」
「Why not? It seems inherently silly to worry about social standing in a simple cafeteria. It’s one of the charms that draws me here.」
「…In that case, I’ll gladly accept Lady Ariel’s invitation.」
「「「Eh?! That’s unfair!!」」」
Finally, the tension in the air exploded. There were many people present besides Mia that wanted to get closer to Ariel.
A lot of them gave up and resigned to just looking because they thought Ariel’s position put her out of their reach. But now that a commoner like Mia managed to sit at the same table, their perspectives looked completely different.
「…What is happening right now?」
「Everyone here would also love to chat with Lady Ariel.」
Thinking that getting ahead of others might have been bad, Mia interceded on behalf of the other students.
「Yes, Lady Ariel. I’m more than certain that is the case.」
「…But why? And what about?」
「Anything really. A few minutes in your company would delight them to no end.」
Ariel was visibly bewildered. This kind of situation was obviously a first for her. She was having a hard time thinking of how to deal with the crowd.
That being the case, it was now Rion’s turn to act.
「Everyone! Because it’s obviously not possible to have you come all at once, let us start with people at the table closest to us for now.」
「Yes! Yes please!」「Me too! Me too, by all means, I would like to talk」
「Me too!」 「Me! Please pick me!」
The students on the table that Rion pointed out immediately raised their hands. All of them. That was exactly why Rion picked only these four.
「No way!?」 「That’s unfair!」 「That’s right! Let’s settle this with lottery!」
Immediately, the students that were not picked protested in outrage.
「…Why on earth? Isn’t this all just too much?」
Ariel was still surprised. She could not comprehend why all those people would find it that exciting st just a conversation with her.
「I can’t say I’m clear on the reasons either, milady. But wouldn’t this be a nice diversion from your usual routine?」
「However, all this chaos will just not do…」
The volume of the arguing voices continued to rise. It was reinforced by a group of people joining the racket for the fun of it. As the uproar developed….
「Silence! There will be opportunities for all of you! Wait your turn and rein in your enthusiasm!」
Vincent’s loud voice quieted everyone down. No one here wanted to make a high noble angry.
「But! In exchange for your patience, House Windhill will take on the bill for everyone in this cafeteria! Eat and drink your fill!」
Vincent’s generous pronouncement left everyone puzzled. It was so sudden that they didn’t know how to take his words.
「Mind your schedules, however! Don’t make this a reason to be late to class and cause trouble for Lord Vincent! Is that clear to everyone!?」
Following these words of Rion the cafeteria erupted with students’ cheers. Hearing Rion’s practical addendum, everyone understood that it would be fine to take Vincent’s words at face value.
Expressions of gratitude surrounded Vincent from all directions. Some students immediately stood up and ordered more drinks.
Nobody objected to this clamor, although it was far from silent.
As for those lucky students who now sat at the same table as Windhills.
「…Right. That one time Lord Vincent said…」
「Hey! I heard that! What kind of valet uses his lord to make others laugh?!」
「The best one, like me.」
「Sir, it’s just a bit of harmless entertainment…」
It was clear to Rion that this was the right moment to clear away the bad rumors about Vincent, who was in high spirits and only partially angry at being made fun of.
Seeing that overly serious appearance broke the ice and made the invited students feel accepted. This caused the table to get really lively..
Ariel too set aside her aristocratic demeanor and wore a laughing face befitting her age. This was the first time she saw a group of people entertained by such a silly talk. The time she spent with Rion and her older brother had once again developed into something fun.
In the far corner of the room, there was a group watching the commotion with cold eyes.
「What a meaningless popularity. These commoners don’t even hail from their fief. Idiotic and incomprehensible.」
The one who said this as if about to spit in disgust was Lancelot. Even though he and his company came to the cafeteria in order to garner popularity among the commoners too following Maria’s suggestion.
「Hey, Arnold. Don’t you think so too?」
「…Huh …So she can actually smile like that?」
「Eh? What are you talking about?」
「Just thinking aloud Lancelot. This was a foolish errand, let’s go back.」