༺ Ball (1) ༻
On an early evening, Renee sat on a chair in the waiting room of the Imperial Palace, recalling the sequence of the coming-of-age ceremony that was to follow.
There wasn’t much for her to do.
All she had to do was to come out briefly at the end of the long ceremony procession, put her hand on Albrecht’s head, and say a few words.
One could argue whether all this grand preparation was necessary for just that one task. But in a way, it seemed fitting.
After all, wasn’t it Albrecht who should shine today? Renee herself only had the role of giving a blessing to Albrecht.
As Renee became lost in such thoughts, a sudden thought came to her mind.
‘The Second Prince must be really happy.’
She thought that Albrecht would feel very happy today.
Since he liked getting attention and enjoyed standing in front of others, he must be trembling with excitement at the thought of having a whole place prepared for himself.
Renee shook her head.
‘But he should mature a bit.’
Although he was of the same age and was even born half a year earlier than her, Renee couldn’t help but worry whenever she thought about him, similar to how she would worry about a child.
At that moment when her head throbbed and she let out a sigh…
“Saint, is there anything you’re uncomfortable with?”
Vera, who was sitting with her in the waiting room, opened his mouth.
Renee flinched at the question but smiled and responded.
“No, I’m just sitting here.”
The smile on her face was tinged with awkwardness. Of course, it was because of her thoughts regarding the upcoming ball.
She was already full of tension after listening to Annie’s long speech.
‘I-I can do it!’
I can really do anything today! Last time we crossed arms, so a little more than that this time! Pretend to fall! Caught in his arms…!
She gulped dry saliva. Her face gradually turned red as she reflected on her determination.
Meanwhile, Vera, who interpreted her expression differently, made a gloomy face as he remembered what he had heard from Aisha a few days ago.
– Block… head?
– You’re such a dunce!
The words that were said as a provocation, the gossip that he didn’t know where Aisha had heard from, stabbed his heart.
Did she hear those words directly from Renee? Vera, who had glanced at Renee due to the rising suspicion, soon closed his eyes and shook off the thoughts that came to mind.
Was Renee the kind of person who would gossip behind his back? Vera rebuked himself for making such ridiculous suspicions.
A silence rose as they both fell silent at the same time. Renee was the first to break the silence.
“Hm. We are going to the Academy after the schedule ends, right?”
She asked for confirmation of what she had heard the day before yesterday. At the words she threw out in an attempt to break the awkward silence, Vera replied.
“Yes, I think we will be leaving in about a week.”
“It’s been a while since we’ve seen Theresa.”
“It’s been three years. I’m not sure how she’s doing.”
They exchanged casual small talk.
However, the atmosphere remained awkward.
The moment when the both of them thought simultaneously, ‘I hope someone would break this atmosphere.’
The sound of a knock came at just the right time.
– Saint, it’s time to enter.
Renee’s complexion brightened as she got up from her seat.
“Shall we go?”
“I will guide you.”
Vera took Renee’s hand, then they started to walk slowly.
A splendid hall. In the large space bathed in yellow light, countless people were seated, all looking towards one place.
Right at the end of the long red carpet was a bright blond boy.
One might say he resembled an angel descended from heaven. Others might say that they fell in love with him the moment they laid eyes on him. He was that beautiful.
However, if that were all there was to him, so many people in this place wouldn’t be focusing their attention on him.
Wasn’t that the case? None of those present here were so idle that they would take time out just to admire his beauty.
They were here for one reason and one reason only: to celebrate the coming of age of the boy on the stage, the superhuman who had been bestowed the Empire’s Greatest Sword.
…That was how it should have been.
“Is the Second Prince’s heart okay? Not long ago…”
“I heard he got dumped in the middle of the road…”
“Gosh, she’s so gutsy. How did that woman dare to even think of dumping the Second Prince?”
“I feel so sorry for our Second Prince, what should we do…”
But the interest of the guests present had already shifted in a direction far away from it.
Albrecht felt his heart pounding and his whole body trembling with pain from hearing those words.
It’s not like that, so please stop tormenting me. I’m begging you, so please…
It was a feeling of shedding tears of blood. He felt like a demonic beast trapped in an iron cage and turned into a spectacle.
Why was gossip so fast in this damned aristocratic society, and why did they like to talk about others so much?
If he couldn’t hear it, he could pretend not to know, but why was his hearing so good? The buzzing that spread here and there kept pounding in his ears.
He felt like his legs were losing their strength. He thought his body might stagger if this kept up.
Albrecht squeezed his eyes shut tightly, forcing his mind to stay focused.
‘No, you can overcome it. Albrecht!’
Haven’t you overcome greater adversities than this! The rumor that you’re a homosexual! The rumor that you’re a pedophile! The rumor that you have a hobby of having aristocratic women on leashes as pets! Didn’t you overcome all of them!
Strength returned to Albrecht’s eyes. His slightly disheveled posture straightened up again.
This is not enough to break me down!
While he was thinking about that…
“It seems that there are people who don’t find the Second Prince’s face to their liking. It’s interesting.”
This time, a huge blow like a battering ram struck Albrecht.
Albrecht’s body stiffened. Cracks appeared on his face. The light went out of his pupils.
It was a statement he couldn’t allow to pass, even if he could let everything else go.
‘I-I’m not beautiful?’
How could anyone look at Albrecht’s face and say that he wasn’t beautiful? How is that even possible?
His mind felt confused. It felt like all the common sense he knew was falling apart.
Albrecht, whose cognition was shattered due to such a big shock…
‘Dream? Yes, this is a dream. Right now, I’m dreaming of being publicly executed in front of everyone!’
Eventually reached the point of denying reality.
In a corner a little further away, Count Baishur, who was sitting with Marie, felt his body trembling with misery.
‘Your Highness! Please!’
Dignity! Please, maintain your dignity!
He inwardly let out a desperate cry.
It seemed that the guests hadn’t noticed Albrecht’s expression yet, but if things continued like this, a really big accident might happen.
‘When will the ceremony end!’
He felt anxious, thinking that the situation had to end quickly.
Luckily, as if on cue from the gods, a voice rang out to distract them.
Baron Feldon, the master of ceremonies, exclaimed.
“Next, there will be a blessing ceremony of His Highness the Second Prince!”
The buzzing subsided. At that one word, all the voices in the space died down.
The blessing ceremony and the woman who would accompany it. The entire room was enveloped in silence at the thought of seeing her.
Over the silence, the music of the orchestra played.
A soft yet majestic melody. Over the music, there was the sound of a closed door opening.
All figures in the hall except for Albrecht, turned their heads in the direction of the door.
Entering through the open door was a sturdily built paladin and a woman, her body wrapped entirely in a white priest robe.
Renee struggled to suppress a deep sigh from escaping.
There was no other reason for it.
This was because she could roughly gauge what was happening inside even while waiting outside the door.
It was a sigh born from her sharp intuition, which allowed her to gauge the progress of events through her keen ears and the sound of voices despite her blindness.
‘I’m feeling sorry for nothing…’
Most of the murmurs from the guests were related to the incident at the outdoor theater not long ago.
It was a rumor derived from the words she had hurled at Albrecht in a fit of bad mood that day.
As she walked slowly, using her cane to touch the ground, Renee pursed her lips, feeling a prick of conscience.
Meanwhile, Vera whispered softly.
“It’s five steps ahead.”
Renee took five steps, just as Vera had said. She carefully moved and then stopped.
“We will now proceed with the blessing ceremony!”
It was the voice of Baron Feldon, who had recently hosted the auction. Renee nodded, turned to where she could sense Albrecht’s presence, and let go of Vera’s hand.
Then, in a voice too quiet for the other guests to hear, she called out to Albrecht.
“Your Highness. Please stop and calm down.”
Albrecht lifted his head. His empty eyes regained a bit of focus.
“I am honored to meet you, Saint.”
He uttered those words as he knelt down and bowed his head.
Renee felt her conscience being stabbed again by the trembling in his voice, and then she felt grateful for wearing a veil now.
She thought that if it weren’t for the veil, her embarrassed expressions would have been exposed to the nobles.
‘Hm… I feel really sorry for him.’
Still, it was his coming-of-age ceremony, so it was a pity that he was so stiff.
Renee felt a deep sense of sympathy for Albrecht’s plight and reached forward to place her hand on top of his head.
‘…Well. It’s your coming-of-age ceremony, so I’ll cut you some slack today.’
Renee, who suddenly remembered that she only said harsh words whenever she saw Albrecht, raised her pure white divinity with the thought of ‘Let’s make it up to him just for today.’
A sigh of admiration came from somewhere in the audience. It was a gasp of wonderment as they beheld the divinity of the same color that had floated in the sky on the day of the terrorist attack.
Renee felt Albrecht’s body shaking at that sound and attempted to suppress her expression, but soon gave up and moved her lips.
“I bless you in the name of the Lord.”
The pure white divinity that had been floating around Renee’s body permeated Albrecht as if it were contagious.
The brilliance increased.
“May the future the Second Prince of the Empire, the owner of the noblest blood, and the sword that protects the center of the continent be full of brilliant light, and may fate lead him down the sacred path.”
It was a string of impromptu prayers she pieced together.
“May he not falter in the face of adversity, be a sturdy wall in the face of the weak, and rule with fear in the face of the wicked.”
What else is there…
Renee thought of what else to say and soon came up with the thought, ‘Well, this much should suffice,’ and unleashed her divinity.
“With this power, I pray and bless you.”
It was not a mere verbal blessing. It was a genuine manifestation of her power.
If she had to measure it, it would be about the size of a thumbnail.
However, to the audience who were unaware of such circumstances, this statement sounded quite striking, and a sense of awe began to flow from them as if they were running out of breath.
Unintentionally, some people reached out their hands.
Driven by the desire to grasp even a fragment of the greatest power, wanting to hold even a piece of fate that promised a radiant future, their movements were a testament to that longing.
Vera restrained their movement by spreading killing intent away from the direction of Renee and Albrecht.
Meanwhile, Renee continued with her last words.
“In the name of the Lord, in the name of the vessel of that Power, I bless the future of Albrecht van Friech, the Second Prince of the Empire.”
Pure white divinity spread throughout the hall, then condensed again. The mass of divinity transformed into a sphere at Renee’s fingertips slowly floated and seeped into Albrecht’s forehead.
Albrecht trembled slightly as the warm energy spread throughout his body.
A daze began to fill his face.
‘Going this far…’
It was because he was moved.
Wasn’t it extraordinary to be bestowed blessings using such tremendous power? Did she not give him something that everyone on the continent desired and hoped for?
There was such a thing.
It was more touching to feel the kindness of a person who was usually unkind than the kindness of a person who was usually kind.
Furthermore, wasn’t Albrecht being bombarded with all kinds of words from the guests until just before?
At this moment, Albrecht bowed his head deeply, feeling an indescribable deep emotion.
“…I give thanks for the blessing.”
What came out were the words that signaled the end of the coming-of-age ceremony.
All the guests rose from their seats. It was an act that didn’t fit the ceremony, but no one cared about it now.
From the perspective of the audience who were unaware of Albrecht and Renee’s inner thoughts, this scene seemed like a painting straight out of a tale of heroes.
Applause and thunderous shouts broke out.
Albrecht, who was looking around at the surroundings, waved his hand with a bright face as he felt a thrill running through his spine at the unfolding scene.
Naturally, Vera’s face contorted into a scowl as he watched this.