The Song of a Caged Bird
※ This is seen from Philine Naa’s point of view.
After parting from Claire and the others, I returned to the Imperial Palace.
I handed my bag over to my servant before heading to my room.
I was in slightly high spirits.
The words Claire left me with were ingrained in my heart.
Surely, there were things that even somebody like me could do.
When I thought about that, I had a feeling that something might change.
“If it isn’t the princess. How do you do?”
The person who called out to me was a woman named Hildegard Eichrodt, who was an imperial bureaucrat.
She had silver hair, red eyes and wore a monocle, which was rather rare for a woman.
Just going by her appearance alone, she gave off the impression of being a cold person, but in reality, she was actually very kind.
When the cat that I was keeping got lost in the palace, she was there to offer her help, and that was when we first started talking.
“Did you just return from the Imperial Academy?”
“Yes, I just got back.”
“Good work…… Did something good happen?”
“Eh? Did it show on my face?”
When I heard Hilda’s words, I pressed both of my hands against my cheeks.
I wonder if I subconsciously let it show.
“Rather than your expression, I would say it’s your general atmosphere. Some part of you just seems really happy. After all, I’m always watching you, Philine-sama.”
“I-Is that so……? I feel kind of embarrassed…..”
I mustn’t let myself get carried away.
Even so, the warmth that I received from Claire was still burning deep in my chest.
“Did something happen? If you do not mind me asking.”
I told Hilda what happened today.
About how I was given rare sweets.
About the encouraging conversation I had with Claire.
About how I was able to make new friends.
I’m sure I must’ve wanted somebody to ask me about it.
I spoke so excitedly that even I thought it was unusual of me.
“―― And that’s what happened. Do you think there are things that even somebody like me could do?”
“Philine-sama, may I just say something?”
After listening to my story, Hilda spoke with a stern voice.
I was a bit perplexed.
“What is it?”
“I don’t think you should let yourself get too close to those people.”
I was flustered.
Right after I finished speaking about how I made new friends, I was suddenly told not to get close to them.
“Those people are from Bauer. It would be dangerous if you carelessly let yourself become close with them.”
“Dangerous, you say…… Claire isn’t that type of person.”
“That might be true, but Claire François is revered as the heroine of the revolution. Even you wouldn’t be able to say that she is just a normal student. There is a chance that she is approaching you, the princess, with ulterior motives.”
When she pointed that out, I suddenly had a reality check.
Sometimes, even I would forget that I was the Imperial Princess of this empire.
There have been plenty of instances where people would try to approach me with malicious intentions.
Since I found that troublesome, I stopped trying to get too involved with other people, however…..
“Claire is different. She listened to me very sincerely.”
“They may have accounted for that as well. Perhaps they were trying to take advantage of one of the princess’ weaknesses.”
I went speechless after hearing that.
It was true that I barely had any self-confidence.
I was grateful for receiving encouragement from Claire, and I wanted to become closer to her.
…… Was that all because she wanted to use me?
“Princess, if you need somebody to talk to, please come to me. Unlike those people, I don’t pose any risks. It is safe to speak with me.”
Hilda’s eyes loosened up slightly as she smiled at me.
With that expression, her ice-cold beauty melted into something very soft.
She was probably trying to look out for me.
“You’re right….. Yes, I’ll take your words to heart. However, I still want to get along with Claire.”
“Getting along with other people is a good thing. Even diplomatically speaking, it is something very important. However, please be aware that there is a line that you must not cross. For your own sake, and for the sake of the Empire as well.”
For the sake of the Empire―― whenever I was faced with those words, I would feel weak.
Even if I was just wearing my status as the Imperial Princess around as a decoration, I was still a member of the Imperial Family.
The rush that I felt after speaking with Claire gradually began to disappear.
“I’m sorry, Princess. I apologize for ruining your good mood. However, I would not be able to stand it if other people tried to scar your gentle heart.”
“Yes, I understand, Hilda. Thank you.”
Surely, Hilda didn’t want to be the one to say it.
She was being candid with me all for my sake.
“I appreciate your understanding. Let me escort you to your room. I would love to ask you about how school has been going for you.”
“No thank you, Hilda. I apologize for taking up so much of your time even though you are so busy. I will go by myself.”
“Please don’t be worried about me……”
“I just need a little bit of time to think by myself. Well then, I will see you later.”
After turning down Hilda’s kind offer, I hurried back to my room.
I brushed the servants away by asking them to let me be alone for a while.
Without changing out of my school uniform, I collapsed onto my bed.
The seeds were already planted in my head. I wanted to talk to Claire more.
More and more, about so many different things―― starting with pointless topics and building up from there.
I wanted to know more about her.
I had a premonition.
“If it’s Claire, perhaps she could even become the source of my strength.”
I was also a member of the Imperial Family.
Even I was thinking seriously for the sake of the Empire in my own way.
My mother was extremely efficient, but I wondered if things were fine this way.
Naa’s foreign policy was extremely progressive―― rather, it was incredibly aggressive.
Being a nation with such overwhelming national power in the background has worked well so far, but it was not guaranteed to stay this way forever.
Naa had made too many enemies.
After failing to interfere with Bauer’s domestic affairs, it led to the creation of the Allied Forces, where three nations were now teaming up against Naa.
The Empire was currently buying time in an attempt to expand its military forces, but the increasing expenditures were putting pressure on our other budgets.
The states that were captured were most likely going to be relatively neglected as well.
If other nations were to catch wind of the anti-Naa movement, then the Empire would be completely surrounded by enemy states.
If that were to happen, no matter how hard Naa tries, we would never be able to fend them off.
“Even a foreign invasion policy has its limits……”
At some point, Naa had to steer towards trying to reconcile with the others diplomatically.
Rather, shouldn’t that time be right now?
“But mother always refuses to listen to what I have to say.”
My mother was not willing to bend her beliefs.
Unless something big happened, our current policies were not going to change.
Mother must’ve had her own ideas in mind.
Trying to get her to change her mind would not be an easy feat.
“I wonder if there’s anything I can do……”
I was the Imperial Princess, but there wasn’t a lot that I could do.
I wasn’t as politically intelligent as Hilda was, and my personality wasn’t as attractive as Frieda’s.
Even so, I couldn’t just leave things without even trying.
“I don’t want a repeat of what happened before.”
A red memory haunted my mind.
It was a sight that carved itself deeply into my heart back when I was young.
I bit my lip in an attempt to forget about it, but the pain tore away at my chest.
I wanted to speak with her again.
I wanted to see her and share my concerns with her.
I could not shake the image of Claire’s incredibly confident smile out of my head.
“What’s…… going on with me……”
My heart ached.
Whenever I recalled Claire’s face, I felt very sad.
Even if Hilda accused her, I still wanted her more and more.
“I wonder if tomorrow could come any sooner……”
Just by going to school, I would be able to see Claire.
I decided to finish my work early today so I could sleep earlier.
As I slowly rose, I rang my bell to call for a change of clothes.
First, I had to get changed, and then I would study.
“I just need to do the things that I can do, little by little, right?”
While clinging onto the words I received from Claire, I stood up.