Life truly is unpredictable.
I was happy up until yesterday because I was able to eat with Ganael, Benjamin, and Demy, but this morning, I voluntarily came downstairs for breakfast.
Of course, it was not the buffet style commonly seen in the modern world.
I was sitting at a round table with Christelle, Vice Captain Élisabeth, and Imperial Prince Cédric.
Long story short, the meal was pretty calm.
This combination would have caused quite the ruckus any other time, but the four of us had come to a sort of agreement before returning to the inn last night.
The plates on the table started to empty and the Imperial Prince put down his utensils.
I took a big bite of a warm croissant with whipped cream and blackcurrant jam to cleanse my palate.
“It’s so good.”
I said it quietly but Christelle looked at me and smiled.
Someone knocked on the dining area’s door at that moment.
– Knock knock knock
A woman entered after Vice Captain Élisabeth responded.
There were five Imperial Guard members behind her. The Imperial Guard had summoned the innkeeper.
“Your loyal subject greets his esteemed Royal Highness, Prince Venetiaan, young Countess Moutet, and young lady Sarnez.”
The innkeeper, Claudine Green, walked into the dining area and bowed respectfully.
I carefully observed her face.
The woman, who had personally escorted the Imperial Prince to his room yesterday, seemed to be in her mid thirties and had a gentle look similar to Morris.
It was hard to imagine that she would do such a thing.
“I wish to show my gratitude for the hospitality shown by the Lucas Village and the Le Siffre inn.”
“I am honored, your Royal Highness. It was nothing compared to the Imperial benevolence we have received.”
Claudine lowered her head even more and answered modestly at the Imperial Prince’s words of gratitude.
I heard that she was a commoner, but she acted and spoke elegantly, probably because she had experience dealing with nobles and the Imperial family.
The Imperial Prince’s orange eyes squinted a bit before he said what we had discussed.
“That is why I am thinking about staying another day.”
Claudine raised her head with a slightly anxious voice before realizing who she was talking to and quickly lowering her gaze.
“Young lady Sarnez has only recently recovered from her illness and is feeling tired. It won’t be a bad idea to rest a little longer.”
The Imperial Prince’s low voice was so cold it sounded almost frigid as he said his pre-planned words. Claudine seemed to think that there was some logic to his words as she nodded her head a few times.
Everybody in the Empire knew that Christelle had been asleep for three years.
Our little trip last night was a secret that only Benjamin and David knew about.
“We will work even harder to repay you for your trust, your Royal Highness!”
Claudine responded in a higher and happier voice. The Imperial Prince looked away from her without saying anything else.
That seemed to be the signal as the Imperial Guard members left the dining area with her.
Employees of the inn came in after that. They were clearing the dishes and serving dessert.
I thoroughly observed the employees while Christelle put up a terrible little act going, ‘ah, my darn iron-deficiency anemia’.
“Did you sleep well, Prince Jesse?”
Morris seemed shocked and his shoulders curled forward at my greeting.
I smiled and watched him put down a plate of cookies shaped like tulips with sherbet on them.
The employees then bowed and started leaving the dining area when…
“Morris, I have something to discuss with you regarding what happened yesterday.”
I stopped Morris from leaving. I didn’t forget to raise my right palm and wave.
He nodded his head and walked toward me.
The other employees seemed to think that I was going to scold Morris, and quickly lowered their gazes and closed the dining area door behind them.
Ganael, who had been quietly standing there, quickly locked the door.
Morris blinked like a scared little calf.
“Is your hand okay?”
“Excuse me? Yes, yes, your highness. It is all thanks to your help. Thank you for your divine benevolence.”
“That’s a relief. Then I will ask about something else now.”
“Yes, of course. Please ask whatever question you may have.”
He respectfully clasped his hands together. I looked directly at him and started my questioning.
“Someone named Felix threatened a shopkeeper at the night market last night. I wish to hear an explanation.”
The young man gasped.
He cautiously looked up before noticing that we were all looking at him and turning pale.
“So, Miss Claudine Green, the innkeeper, is your aunt.”
“Yes, your highness. We aren’t very far apart in age, but…… My grandfather and my aunt took me in when I became an orphan.”
Morris explained the situation.
He shoved his large body into a small chair while being pseudo interrogated by us.
The grandfather he was talking about was the person who ran the inn before Claudine inherited it.
According to Benjamin, that grandfather was extorting money from the villagers using terrible means and was caught by Cardinal Boutier, who happened to be staying here.
Empress Frédérique, who was with her, immediately sent him to the prison at the Lord’s Castle over ten years ago.
Claudine, the daughter of the criminal, was responsible for the inn after that.
“The fee is…… It is money the Le Siffre receives from the villagers. My aunt sends people to the night market and the vendors to collect the fee whenever members of the Imperial family or nobles visit.”
Vice Captain Élisabeth looked astonished.
“Did she perhaps take a portion of the imperial gifts his Royal Highness bestowed on the villagers?”
“That is right, madam young Countess.”
Morris responded with a sad look on his face. His voice was slowly getting heavier with guilt.
“The esteemed guests always bestow expensive gifts to the villagers in response to the warm welcome they receive. My aunt believes that it is only possible because the Le Siffre inn is here. Those esteemed guests would have no reason to come here if the inn did not exist and the villagers would not receive any gifts.”
All four of us frowned at the same time after hearing his explanation.
Claudine wasn’t completely wrong.
The Imperial family and great nobles have stayed in this place for a long time, so it wasn’t a stretch to think that the gifts bestowed each time was because of the inn.
However, that was absolutely not a proper justification to take people’s money away.
Furthermore, it wasn’t as if the villagers were fooling around.
I heard that they came out every morning to sweep the streets and beautify the whole village from the moment our itinerary was shared with them.
They fixed the roads and baked bread for the Imperial Guard members even though they weren’t paid for their labor.
In fact, even the bouquet that the Imperial Prince received yesterday was hand raised by the villagers who made sure to only use the best of the best flowers.
“I’ve committed a grave sin, your Royal Highness. I tried to stop my aunt numerous times, but…… It was useless. Me, please punish me first.”
Morris bowed deeply and his whole body was shaking.
He was 13 years old when his grandfather was sent to prison.
It was probably not easy for him to change the situation since his aunt was his only remaining relative and he was a minor.
I could imagine how Claudine treated her nephew since she makes him pay to use medicine from the inn.
“I can’t be sure of anything after only hearing your explanation.”
The Imperial Prince responded after having heard the whole story silently. Morris flinched.
I noticed that his sunset colored eyes were burning with silent anger.
“I will host a luncheon. Summon the representatives of the village.”
He made his proclamation. Phase 2 of the operation was now starting.
After Imperial Prince Cédric called Claudine Green to show his gratitude and extend his stay for another day, he called the two village representatives to treat them to lunch.
Anybody would think that the Imperial Prince was extremely satisfied with the village and the inn.
Thanks to that, the chef of Romero Palace,, who was accompanying the Imperial Prince, was busy all day.
It was fine until now, but…
The problem was that the two village representatives who were in the dining area with us were unable to say anything because they were scared.
I smiled bitterly and looked at them.
Christelle was thinking hard about something next to me.
It would have been different if the two middle-aged people were only wary of the Imperial Prince.
I would have been able to tell him to try to lessen the pressure he was giving them.
However, the person they were clearly wary of was…
“The final main dish is Coq au vin. Please enjoy.”
It was this person. Claudine Green was smiling brightly while attending to us.
She claimed that she was personally serving us as the innkeeper because it was a special occasion.
However, I noticed her alterior motive less than five minutes after the food came out.
The middle-aged individuals would look down at their plate as soon as they made eye contact with her, while Claudine would stare each of them down for a while.
Although she had this extremely compassionate look on her face, it was obvious that she was threatening the village representatives in some way.
She was basically telling them to not even think about making any negative comments.
The Imperial Prince quietly observed the table.
They would need to send Claudine out of the room to hear from the village representatives.
I was debating on what to do when I noticed Christelle silently mouthing something to Vice Captain Élisabeth.
The words she was mouthing were clear.
Vice Captain Élisabeth’s grey eyes opened wide at these words that were impossible to misunderstand.
She pointed to herself and mouthed back.
‘Yes, act sick.’
Christelle winked with her left eye and then her right eye. It was amazing.
‘I can’t wink with either eye.’
Vice Captain Élisabeth quietly scoffed.
She was biting her lips as if it was awkward and embarrassing to suddenly put up an act.
I became anxious as well as I looked at her.
“Oh. Suddenly. My. Stomach……”
I quickly grabbed a napkin and pretended to wipe my mouth so that I wouldn’t laugh.
I saw the Imperial Prince fix the knife in his hand at this sudden act.
‘Are you okay? You were shocked too, right?’
“Oh my, young Countess. Are you okay?”
Claudine stopped explaining about the food and asked Vice Captain Élisabeth.
Our main character (MC) turned into master of ceremonies (MC) Christelle on cue.
She brushed the young Countess’s hair and cheek before catching rhythm with a sorrowful look on her face.
“Not only has young Countess Moutet protected his Royal Highness as the Vice Captain of the Imperial Guard, she has done everything she could to support a weak person like me. Now that I think about it, she has not looked well since breakfast. I’m sorry for being so inattentive. We need to send the young Countess up to her room and have an attendant help her to relax right away, your Royal Highness.”
‘Wow…… You can ad lib all of that?’
I blankly dropped my jaw in shock when the Imperial Prince, who seemed to have a basic idea of what was going on, looked toward Claudine and nodded his head.
“The young Countess is my close friend, so I want you to personally look after her.”
“Excuse me? Yes, your Royal Highness. I will treat her as best as possible.”
She seemed anxious for a moment but did not dare to talk back to the Imperial Prince.
Someone who didn’t know what was going on would think that Vice Captain Élisabeth’s red face was a serious issue.
Claudine immediately supported her and walked out of the dining area.
Christelle, the Imperial Prince, Benjamin, Ganael, David, the two village representatives and I were the only ones left.
Ganael, who was standing behind me, whispered to me in an urgent voice.
“Your highness, did Georges leave just now because she really is sick……”
I turned to see that the young boy was completely pale.
‘Georges? Is he talking about Vice Captain Élisabeth?’
“Vice Captain Élisabeth is fine. It’s not real so don’t worry, Ganael.”
I quickly consoled Ganael.
His gold eyes slowly blinked a few times before he calmed down.
His bright smile soon reappeared.
‘I guess there’s someone else who believed her acting.’
I smiled back at him and then turned toward Christelle.
“……Thank you for taking care of that, young lady Sarnez.”
“It was nothing. Please treat Vice Captain Élisabeth to something nice later. It’s going to be difficult for her to stall for time.”
Her blue-gray eyes were sparkling brightly.
I continued to smile and turned toward our guests.
The two middle-aged individuals were looking at us with blank expressions.
‘Mm, I guess they would be shocked.’
“Morris has told us about the situation.”
I started speaking without any hesitation. It was a speed battle from here.