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Jared’s romantic overtures, unrelenting since his confession after the kidnapping incident, don’t abate today. He elegantly draws in near with his oh-so-beautiful face and whispers of his love, then begins to touch me.
My friends always back me up when I go pale or flush red in my inner turmoil… but at this rate, my heart won’t hold up, given that I have zero tolerance to romance.
In this short time since his confession, my heart has been beating so fast that I worry that my heart may use up the limited number of heartbeats allocated for my life.
To be honest, it’s really tough for me to deal with a handsome prince’s romantic overtures when he throws himself on top of me. Seriously, it’s enough to make me want him to begin with writing in an exchange diary with me or something. I’m a complete novice at romance, after all.
And so, I’m complaining to my stepbrother Keith in his room today again, exhausted from dealing with Jared’s romantic overtures.
“… I’m – I’m so tired.”
I flop onto his room’s sofa.
“Looks like you’ve given up,” says Keith, even as he smiles wryly at his sister’s whining.
He brings out my favourite sweets and pours me my favourite tea.
“Mmank phu,” I thank him, already stuffing my mouth with the sweets.
Normally, Keith would get angry at me for my terrible manners. But today, seeing how exhausted I am, he lets it go with just another wry smile.
But really, Keith hasn’t made one complaint despite his stepsister coming into his room every day, exhausted, to do nothing but grouch. He not only listens to my complaints but even emphasizes with my pain.
I really have a splendid stepbrother.
Though Keith has always helped me out like this in the first place, ever since we were little.
Whether it was after I was lectured by Mother or after I made a mistake during a tea party, he always listened to what I had to say until I returned to normal.
My older brothers from my previous life were rather different. When they saw their younger sister depressed, the only idea they would have would be to start wrestling with her until she felt better.
I didn’t hate my older brothers, but I did think, too many times to count, “Try even a little to understand a sensitive girl’s feelings! You morons!”
In contrast, Keith is considerate, understanding perfectly how a maiden’s feelings work. He would never start wrestling with his sister when she’s feeling down. Instead, he would silently bring out her favourite sweets and tea.
Considerate, kind, and faultless – I really have a splendid stepbrother.
The way he is, he wouldn’t bring shame to the family no matter whose wife he become – oh, though he would become a husband, to be accurate. He’s probably beating off the women with a stick.
But as his stepsister, I want him to find a good wife if possible. It would inconvenience me if she were the same type of person as Mother. My ideal would be a good and kind girl like Maria.
As I go and muse about my stepbrother’s wife, Keith speaks up.
“Hey, do you really not intend to marry Jared-sama?” asks Keith, looking somewhat serious.
“Obviously! If I married Jared-sama, I would become royalty! Royalty – they stand at the top of this country! Do you think I could fit in a role like that?” I deny firmly.
Even my friend Mary, known as a picture-perfect noble’s daughter, says that it might be tough on her. It’s completely impossible for a useless, hopeless girl like me.
“Heh heh, that’s true. Being royalty would probably be tough on you, sis,” says Keith, laughing cheerfully. But immediately after, his serious expression returns, “But… but, despite that, if you still… about Jared…”
“Never mind, it’s nothing,” says Keith, stopping himself from saying more.
He looked somehow pained… my heart twinged at the expression. It reminded me of how he looked when he had come to our house for the first time.
But his expression returned to normal almost immediately and he encouraged me to continue talking.
I forgot completely about my heart twinging after I started complaining again at Keith’s encouragements.
And so, feeling completely refreshed, I returned to my room. As the academy is closed for a break for a short while starting from tomorrow, we’ll be returning to the Claes mansion.
I’ll be able to escape from Jared’s passionate romantic overtures for a short while. I was feeling a little relieved.
The next day, Keith and I returned to the Claes mansion as planned. I immediately changed into my work clothes and headed out to my field at home for the first time in a while.
In the past, my mother would disapprove. But now, she’s started to just say with a tired expression that she doesn’t care so long as I don’t make strange shouts.
I tell her cheerfully that I understand, even though I don’t understand the most important thing - what she means by strange shouts.
Could I be yelling out weird things like “Ah-h-hh!” or “Ra-a-ah!” without realizing it? I need to be careful.
I take my plow in my hand.
“Heigh-hoh, heave-ho,” I shout, beginning my farmwork.
Perhaps because it was a break, but even Jared didn’t visit my home today. Keith had left soon after we got home, saying that he had something he needed to do. So I worked hard on my field with old man Tom and Anne.
In the past, Anne would look stiff and say that she couldn’t believe that a good noble daughter would work on a field, but perhaps because she accompanied me every day as I worked on my field even at school. But before I knew it, Anne had become even better than me at farmwork.
Now, she’s become so good that she can even give me precise instructions. “Oh, young mistress, you shouldn’t harvest that plant just yet. I believe that the one next to it is readier for harvest,” for example.
She’s become incredibly good at planting seeds and seedlings, and nowadays, she’s even become knowledgeable about what kinds of fertilizer are best and which tools would make work go more smoothly.
And so, I worked hard on my field – so hard that I lost track of time. Before I knew it, the sun was setting.
My efforts were not for vain. My field has become a lot tidier than before and I was able to harvest many vegetables.
Wanting Keith to see my hard work, I head to his room without changing out of my work clothes.
“Hey, Keith. My field has gotten even more splendid than before – come see…” I say.
I knock on the door before opening the door and entering. But…
“Huh? He’s still not back?”
There was no one there.
I thought that he would be back already since he left pretty early, but perhaps he was somewhere else? So I ask the Claes family butler Sebastian (a nickname I went and gave him on my own), but he says that Keith had still not returned.
Was the thing he had to do something that takes a lot of time?
I’m disappointed, but it can’t be helped. I give up and make to return to my field, but I happen to run into Mother as she leaves the tearoom.
As soon as she catches sight of me, Mother, who had been cheerfully chatting with a maid, immediately darkens. She stands up tall. I can see her anger very clearly in her eyes.
What? What? Why? We only just saw each other. Mother’s sharp gaze pierces me as I panic in confusion. She then checks something behind me. Her gaze sharpens even further.
Wait, what? I look behind me to see a trail of dirt on my path. To make things worse, I can see it trailing off rather neatly all the way to the hallway behind me.
Then I look down at myself. I’m wearing my work clothes, still caked in dirt from my farmwork.
This is bad… Sensing danger, I tried to quietly escape, but my opponent moved faster. Before I could escape, Mother grabs me by the scruff.
“Katarina, come to my room for a bit,” growls Mother in a low, dangerous voice. She sounds like a gatekeeper to hell.
And so after she brushed off the dirt caked on my clothes, Mother dragged me to her room like a prisoner. I received an hours-long lecture.
And so, after being finally released from her lecture, I headed to Keith’s room again to complain about how Mother got angry at me and to talk about my harvest.
I had thought that he would be back, since the sun had already set, but…
The room was just as quiet as it had been the last time I visited. There was no answer to my call.
In the end, Keith did not return to the Claes mansion that day.
Keith had never not come back home without saying something first.
Thus, when Keith didn’t come back, everyone in the mansion was taken off guard. A single letter was delivered to the Claes mansion when we were discussing filing a missing person’s report. In the letter the following was written in what was unmistakably Keith’s writing.
I am leaving as I can no longer bear the responsibility of being the heir to a Duke’s house. Please do not look for me.
After receiving the letter, the chaos at the mansion worsened. Everyone who served the House of Claes said things like “I cannot believe that someone as talented and perfect as Keith-sama wouldn’t be able to bear the responsibilities of being heir,” and “But he’s intelligent and recently, he was accompanying Master to his work. He was furthering his studies,” and “He did not seem in the slightest like he couldn’t bear his responsibilities.”
I did agree with what everyone said.
It’s been almost a decade since Keith was taken into the family, but Keith has always been talented and quick to learn. He easily blended with noble circles and he’s better than me at conducting himself in high society.
By now, he was recognized as the House of Claes’ perfect heir. Would Keith think that being a Duke’s heir was just too tough at this point?
As I mused in confusion, I was called over by Mother to her room for some reason.
What was the matter? Did she perhaps learn something about Keith?
“Katarina, about Keith…” says Mother with a serious look when I enter her room.
Did she learn something about Keith after all? Adopting a similarly serious expression, I wait for Mother’s next words.
“About Keith’s letter – I really can’t believe that the responsibilities of a Duke’s house were such a burden on him.”
“… That’s true.”
As I thought, Mother was thinking the same thing as me. I give her a big nod of agreement.
“So I asked the servants about a lot of different things… then they said…”
“Then they said?”
Mother’s gaze sharpens. I automatically straighten up in response.
“Keith apparently had been spotted a number of times looking depressed lately, his expression dark.”
“Keith looking depressed?”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look depressed, but perhaps I just didn’t notice?
“That’s right. And everyone says that he almost always only looked depressed after he saw a certain someone.”
“What!? A certain someone!?”
Who could it be? Could that person have something to do with Keith’s worries? Then if we ask that person, we might learn something about his worries.
“Mother, just who is this person?”
“… It is…” Mother begins, pausing for a moment to stare at me before continuing, “… You, Katarina!”
She said the second statement firmly, as if she were a detective from a TV show that had found the culprit.
“… Wh – what!? Me!?”
My mouth drops open in my shock.
“That’s right, you, Katarina. According to the servants’ testimonies, lately Keith has apparently looked particularly depressed after speaking with you,” Mother says as if she were cornering in on the culprit of a crime.
“After speaking with me…”
He had listened to my grouching a lot lately… but had he seemed depressed? I think back… now that she mentions it, I do recall that he had seemed somehow pained the day before we came home.
“Oh, now that you mention it…”
“As I thought, you know what it may be,” says Mother at my comment, sighing deeply as if she were a policewoman that had wrangled out a confession from a criminal. Continuing, she declares loudly, “Keith did not run away from home because he could not bear the burden of his responsibilities as the heir to a Duke’s house. Keith ran away because babysitting you, Katarina, was too much for him to bear!”
Well, it’s true that he did always back me up and help me out in a lot of different ways… but babysitting?
“Keith became tired of having to take care of his useless stepsister for all these years. But since he’s a kind child, he couldn’t say straight-out that he hated his stepsister, so he wrote a letter like that…” says Mother, looking away with a pained expression.
Putting aside the babysitting and so on, it’s true that I’ve barged into his room and made him listen to my grouching a lot lately. Being told that he got tired because of that is making me think that may be so.
“… What should we do…?”
If Keith never came back, having drained all of his goodwill towards me…
At my downhearted state, Mother looks at me grimly and tightly grips my hands.
“There’s nothing we can do about what’s already happened. For now, apologize for everything you’ve done up until now. And tell him that you’ll do your best to avoid causing him trouble in the future. If he recognizes your genuine intentions, I’m sure he’ll forgive you – he’s a kind child.”
“… Mo – mother.”
To think that Mother would say something like that to me. I’m touched – my eyes get wet. I grip my mother’s hands right back.
“Mother, I will properly apologize to Keith! And I’ll go and tell him that I will do my best to avoid causing him trouble!” I say.
“Yes, do your best, Katarina!”
In this way, in one room in the Claes mansion, a mother-daughter pair, both a little off their heads, grip each other’s hands and cry out to each other.
Right then, let’s conduct a strategy meeting for bringing Keith back!
President: Katarina Claes, Vice-President: Katarina Claes, Secretary: Katarina Claes.
Very well then. Today, I would like to discuss strategies to have Keith return back home after he ran away. Everyone, please voice your opinions.
I would not call this my opinion exactly, but would it not be a good idea to apologize and promise to not cause him any trouble anymore like Mother suggested earlier?
Well, that is the basic idea, but I believe that it would be better to show our good faith in some way.
For example, doing something for him to make up for all the trouble we’ve caused him up until now?
Ooh, that is a very good idea. So then what would we do for him?
I have not thought about that yet!
… You shouldn’t say that so haughtily.
What if we gave him a present? Like sweets?
That sounds good, but would Keith be happy getting sweets?
Then perhaps new seedlings or fertilizer?
That’s just what Katarina wants, isn’t it.
Then perhaps tickets for shoulder massages or washing his back in the bath?
Father would probably be overjoyed, but would Keith? But it might be nice to demonstrate our gratitude for what he does for us every day by serving him well like that.
Well then, it’s decided! We’ll apologize to Keith to get him to come home, then serve him well with all our gratitude!
And we need to promise to not cause him trouble anymore.
That’s right. Let’s vow to no longer eat too much and get sick. Let’s also vow to be careful not to play inside after getting carried away, thus breaking things.
Alright, it’s perfect. Well then, all we need to do now is go to Keith.
… So, where is Keith?
We need to begin by searching for Keith, do we not?
Y – you’re very smart, Katarina Claes. It’s just as you say.
That’s true, let’s start by searching for Keith. Since he ran away from home, he’s probably not nearby… so we’ll need to set out on a journey in search of Keith.
A journey in search of Keith! Like in that anime 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, right!?
That’s right, but in search of our stepbrother rather than our mother.
… Well, to begin with then are we alright with deciding to set out on a journey in search of Keith?
And so, I resolved to set out on a journey to search for Keith.
The fact that I had decided to set out on a journey had leaked from somewhere… and for some reason, people showed up saying that they wanted to come along with me.
One was my fiancé Jared Stuart, who said that he would come along because he was worried about me. He wouldn’t listen to my objections and I couldn’t send him away.
Another was Lahna from the Ministry of Magic for some reason, who said “This is convenient – I can treat it as the training trip for new Ministry employees. Let me come along.”
I was surprised to hear there was a trip like that, but since things would probably go smoothly with a Ministry higher-up like Lahna coming along, I decided to ask her to come along.
So the new employees that Lahna was going to train, Maria and Sora, ended up coming along as well.
On a side note, the young man named Sora is the same person as Rufus, one of the culprits behind my kidnapping a little while back.
He helped out greatly with the kidnapping with his dark magic, but after bursting into tears and claiming that his master had threatened him, he was absolved of all charges. He, who had lived through such an unlucky childhood, was under custody by the Ministry of Magic.
Though well, when I actually interacted with him during the kidnapping incident he really didn’t seem like the type to burst into tears and claim that he was threatened…
Well anyways, through this and that, it was decided that a somewhat strange group consisting of me, Jared, Lahna, Maria, and Sora (Rufus) would set out on a journey in search of Keith.
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