Ch. 143 The Center (2)



Louise glanced at the window to check the height of the morning sun.

A day passed and Simon’s birthday arrived. Louise’s prediction that he would not be able to read a book today was correct. He wondered how he ended up in a garden near one of the lecture buildings, pulling an arrow from a bowstring.

He had planned to spend the day in Ian’s room playing chess or the Goddess of Apples game. One of the items Ian had brought yesterday included cups, so he had probably brought an alcoholic drink as well. The tradition of drinking when one reached adulthood was quite old-fashioned, but Ian was a reliable prince when it came to tradition. The crown prince should cherish all the customs of his country, even if it involved smuggling alcohol into the dorms.

Simon had opened his door, and heard someone stamping up the stairs. It was a strange noise in the morning quiet of the dormitory. A moment later, a familiar man in uniform appeared. He was a servant, a man at the beck-and-call of the Imperial family. Simon had seen him several times before when he had been matched with Louise.

Simon tried to anticipate what he would say. Perhaps Simon was summoned back to the palace because of the letter he sent to his father. But why today, of all days…?

As soon as the man spotted Simon, his expression brightened and he quickly approached.

“Young lord, the former queen is waiting for you.”

So Simon must have been called to the palace. What should he say to Ian and Louise? They had been making plans to spend the day in Ian’s room.

“I need to tell the Crown Prince first.”

“You don’t have to worry about that. He was summoned as well.”

So Louise would be by herself? He found that thought even more unpleasant.

“As well as Miss Sweeney.”

Simon’s eyes widened at his answer, but there was still one more thing that would surprise him.

“You should go immediately. She’s waiting in the garden.”

“…Garden?”

“Yes, the garden behind the lecture building.”

In other words, the former queen came directly here. For a moment Simon was puzzled, but he pulled himself together and left the dorm. It was on his birthday that an elder from the Imperial Family visited the Academy. It was a good story for the nobles to talk about.

Anxiety stirred in Simon’s heart, a learned reaction from his father long ago. He quickened his steps, and his only consolation was that the Academy was silent. At least it meant that the former queen’s visit was informal. But why did she call for Ian and Louise as well? He couldn’t guess, which only made him more anxious.

Simon made the final turn, and stopped when he saw the scene before his eyes.

Pak!

An arrow pierced an archery target. Ian, who was still holding his posture, slightly twisted his lips. It was a habit he did when things didn’t go the way he wanted them to. Ian noticed Simon and turned his head to greet him.

“Sorry.”

No, not greet, apologize.

“I forgot to tell her that we’re not clowns for her entertainment.”

Simon followed Ian’s gaze to the other side of the garden where the former queen was watching, Louise sitting at her side. Simon was about to take a step towards them when the former queen lifted her hand. He was unsure by her order not to come, but soon realized what he meant.

A servant brought Simon’s bow and gloves. Now that he was before an esteemed royal member, he was supposed to display his talent.

Simon shrugged off his uncomfortable jacket. It was a little chilly with only his thin shirt, but at least the jacket wouldn’t get in the way. After gently rolling his neck and shoulders, he moved to where Ian had stood.

Simon pulled the bow.

*

*

*

“Isn’t this wonderful?”

Louise nodded at the words of the former queen, who was looking at Ian with shining eyes. She didn’t know specifically what the former queen was enjoying, but Louise liked looking at Ian too.

“I enjoy watching the children’s backs as they practice archery.”

“Ah…”

Louise nodded her head understandingly. The former queen must be proud to see her grandsons grow like this.

“Fortunately, both boys have excellent muscles.”

“Wh-what?!”

Louise forgot her manners and ended up sputtering loudly. The eyes of the annoyed servants fell on Louise’ head, but the former queen was not angry. Instead, she smiled benignly at Louise.

“It’s an old woman’s joke.”

She gave a small chuckle, but Louise suspected it wasn’t a joke.

‘Well…‘

Louise followed the gaze of the former queen and looked back at Ian. His upper body muscles tensed each time he pulled the bow. Louise had always thought Ian’s back was wonderful, but it was nothing compared to the magnificence she saw now. How could she even describe it in words?

While Louise worried about what to say, the former queen murmured,

“Very beautiful, indeed.”

As expected, the wisdom of an adult could not be matched. It was a fitting description.

“Yes, very beautiful.”

“As I said, watching these children’s back is a joy in my life.”

Now there was a new joy in Louise’s life too. Ian’s intense look of concentration was very attractive as well, especially amidst this scenic garden.

“Oh, um…”

Louise suddenly realized that she had omitted something important.

“Thank you for inviting me today.”

It is unusual for her to intrude in a royal family meeting.

“No need to thank me. I wanted to speak to you, Miss Sweeney.”

“To…me?”

As they talked, Simon finally appeared, his complexion pale. Louise was worried. Simon looked like he was burdened by some anxiety, and she waved joyfully to him to see if he was alright. Simon relaxed, but even then the former queen did not take her eyes off the two boys.

Or their backs.

With a very proud expression.

She really must have come here just to see them from behind. She had a wonderful sense of aesthetics.

“Louise Sweeney.”

“Yes.”

“Where do you think Simon’s arrow will land?”

“I think…”

It was the first time she had seen either of them shoot an arrow. Not knowing their skills, Louise dared not say anything.

“Simon—no, the young lord…”

“Please treasure the rules of the Academy. I just came here just as a grandmother of the two.”

Simon took his place in front of the target.

“Based on Ian’s arrow, Simon’s will land a degree or two away from the center.”

“What?”

The moment Louise asked, Simon’s arrow flew from his bow and sunk into the target. She finally understood the former queen’s remark. There really was a slight difference to Ian’s.

“For Simon Hillard, that is the center.”

“…”

“Is that not cruel?”

It was Ian’s turn to step up. His face was tense, as if his target was narrow. According to their promise, Ian should not lag behind Simon.

“I…”

The former queen spoke quietly, keeping her eyes on the pair.

“I hoped the two children would have different targets.”

But it wasn’t easy. The weight of their nobility was almost the same, and many couldn’t take their eyes off them.

“So, I was so happy when I found out about you, Miss Sweeney. You could set a new target for Simon.”

“I…”

Louise bowed her head, her heart sinking as she thought of the last rainy season.

“Simon Hillard longed for you, so I had to ask for a marriage match.”

Louise was the humblest marriage option by the standards of the nobility. The combination of Simon and Louise would be strategic in a few ways—the Sweeney family could be incorporated into aristocracy, while Simon, as a noble, could be relieved of his high expectations.

“But now that the marriage has been shattered, this selfish old woman cannot ignore her grandson.”

Ian’s bow twanged through the air, and his arrow landed in the bullseye. The former queen immediately clapped her hands.

“I’m going to use the rest of my influence in my old life.”

It was Simon’s turn again. Now he had to choose. Should he tighten the pressure on Ian or loosen him a bit? Which spot was suitable for a duke?

“To fulfill something Simon Hillard earnestly desired.”

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