Chapter 17 – Reading books by myself in a gilded cage
My name is Sophia Ascarot. I was born as Earl Ascarot’s eldest daughter. My gentle and reliable father is the prime minister of our country, and is greatly trusted by the king. I also had a very kind and beautiful mother and older brother.
I was born into a wealthy and respectable house, and am blessed with a wonderful family. Ever since I was born, I was given a lot of happiness from my family.
Because of this though…… There was a price to be paid for my blessings……
I wasn’t born the same as everyone else.
My hair was completely devoid of any color and was pure white, and my eyes were the color of blood.
My appearance was different from everyone.
Whenever I went outside, I would be looked at strangely, and people would call me the “cursed child” behind my back.
Even so, my family loved me very much. My father would always stroke my head gently, mother would always hug me, and my brother always stayed close to protect me.
My kind family says that one day someone who accepts me for who I am will appear…… That I will definitely be able to make a wonderful friend…… I don’t think such a person is going to appear.
And so, I mostly shut myself in my room. This way, I won’t catch people’s attention……
And I would always be reading books inside my room. All the wonderful stories helped me forget about my painful reality.
I opened my favorite book, a story about the friendship between a princess and a commoner girl. “The Emerald Princess and Sophia.” One of the main characters had the same name as me. Sophia in the story is a cheerful, popular girl with beautiful black hair and black eyes. In front of such a wonderful Sophia, the princess of the country appeared.
“You really do have such beautiful hair. May I touch it just a little?” The princess said so to Sophia while smiling. Sophia smiled back shyly.
It’s a wonderful story that the cursed me will never be able to experience.
So, alone in my room, I would always imagine myself to be the main character of the story. I can only become a wonderful, popular girl in my imagination……
“Sophia, please join the tea party at the castle.”
One day, my father said this to me. I’ve never been to a tea party before. Whenever I go outside, everyone would look at me strangely because of my appearance, so I’d rather not go outside and experience that. That’s what I said as I refused. However, father who always listened to what I wanted would not budge his ground today.
“Listen up, Sophia. You have magic power. That means that when you turn fifteen, you’ll be required to attend magic school. You won’t be able to always hole yourself up in your room. This tea party is being hosted by the princes, and many noble children will be attending. Some of them will probably be attending magic school with you. I know it might be tough on you, and I don’t mind if you come back early, but you have to start getting used to the outside world little by little.”
Certainly, it’s mandated that I have to attend magic school once I turn fifteen. I know that I can’t always stay in my room playing make believe all the time.
I have to start getting used to things little by little – I summoned what little courage I had and decided to participate in the tea party.
And so I attended my first tea party together with my brother.
The extravagant tea party was held in a corner of the castle garden. There were more people there than I had ever seen before. At first, I tried the mountains of sweets and teas together with my brother, but……
As soon as I strayed a little from my brother, I was immediately surrounded by some other noble children. All of them had grim faces.
And then they brought me over to a tree by the edge of the garden.
“Hey you, don’t you know that this is a very special occasion where the princes are hosting a tea party for the first time!?”
“That’s right! If a cursed child like you comes here, it’ll spoil the atmosphere!”
“To begin with, you shouldn’t even be coming out in public when you look like that!”
All of them were badmouthing me together.
I know that I’m disgusting, and I know that it’s to be expected for them to hate me, but…… I bit my lips. As I thought, I shouldn’t have left my room. I was thinking that it would be much better if I could always live a sheltered life in my room…… While I was thinking so –
“Could you please let me pass?”
I heard a clear voice from behind me. When I looked back to see who it was, I saw a girl standing there with a dignified air about her as if she was the Emerald Princess from the story.
With one line from the girl, she easily made the people around me scatter and flee.
I don’t really understand exactly what happened…… But even so, I understood that this girl had helped me.
And while I was still confused, the girl smiled elegantly, and went off dashingly. I just stared at her back all the while.
After that, I hid behind the tree for a while, and then returned to the tea party later after confirming that none of the people from earlier were around. Then, I met the girl from before again by accident.
I wanted to thank her for helping me earlier…… I summoned all the courage I had and tried to speak to the girl.
When she turned around to look at me, her dignified appearance was unchanged from earlier.
“Uhh…… (Thank you for earlier…)”
I was so nervous that I couldn’t speak. Her light blue eyes were looking at me. And then she said something suddenly.
“Your hair is just like silk! I wonder if I may touch it just a little bit?”
That’s a line from “The Emerald Princess and Sophia” which I’ve read dozens of times. The main character Sophia is a cheerful, popular girl that had a chance meeting with a mysterious girl in the outskirts of town. A girl with a dignified atmosphere – her name was –
By reflex, I said it out loud. Then –
“The Emerald Princess romance novel!! You know the story ‘The Emerald Princess and Sophia!?’”
Before I realized it, the girl before me grabbed my shoulders. I was just, completely lost. Exactly, why did this girl just say the Emerald Princess’s lines…… And why is it that right now, she’s grabbing my shoulders…… I had no idea what was going on.
Also – up to now, I’ve seen lots of strange looks or cold looks aimed at me, but……
This girl was looking at me with sparkling eyes for some reason. I got even more confused at seeing her eyes.
And so, I was overwhelmed by her momentum, and without knowing anything that was going on, just continued to nod in response to her questions……
“What are you doing, nee-san?”
I heard a questioning voice from beside her. When I looked towards the source of the voice, I saw a handsome boy with flaxen hair and blue eyes standing there. It seems that this boy and girl must know each other.
“Ah, I’m really sorry.”
Upon being confronted by the boy, the girl released my shoulders. And then she gracefully grasped the hems of her dress and curtsied.
“I apologize for my earlier rudeness. I am Katarina Claes. I’ll be much obliged to be in your care.”
I was fascinated by her gestures that really seemed to be like the princess from the story. And so before I realized it I was hurriedly introducing myself in return.
“……I’m Sophia Ascarot.”
And then, after that, something unbelievable happened.
“Sophia-sama! If it’s alright with you, would you like to chat with me for a bit?”
This Katarina girl was holding my hands as she said so.
What on earth is this girl talking about…… I wondered if she was joking with me.
I was just too stunned to understand the situation. And then –
“Well then, Sophia-sama. Next time, won’t you please come over to play with me at my place?”
Before noticing it… I promised to visit Katarina’s place. While making the promise, I kept trying to decide if this was reality, or if perhaps this was just one of my usual dreams from my overactive imagination.
And so, the promised day finally arrived.
Since I never go out by myself, my kind brother came along with me. My older brother by one year with beautiful black hair and black eyes would always defend me and gently hug me. Today, his presence beside me also gave off a very reliable feeling.
And so I gathered up all my courage and visited the Claes mansion, and the servants that came out to greet us had rather shocked expressions. I was already accustomed to this, but……
The courage that I had summoned was gradually losing its strength. Maybe, I’ll only be teased…… While I was waiting anxiously in the guest room, she appeared.
Katarina was breathing hard, and it seemed as if she had hurried to meet us, she just stared at us for a while without saying anything.
I wondered again if she invited me only because she wanted to tease me. Maybe it was a mistake to have come over and visited. While I was frozen stiff not knowing what to say, my reliable brother greeted Katarina first.
“Thank you very much for inviting my sister. Since my sister almost never goes out by herself, I am accompanying her today. I’m her older brother, Nico.”
At hearing my brother’s words Katarina finally responded.
“Thank you very much for accepting my invitation. My name is Katarina Claes.”
Thank you very much for accepting…… Maybe it wasn’t a joke at my expense after all…… I wonder if I’ll end up being glad to have come here.
“I’m Sophia’s older brother, Nico Astarot. I’ll be much obliged to be in your care.”
My brother introduced himself to Katarina again. Then, she froze up. I wonder why……
I was worried about the completely frozen Katarina and said something.
“Ahh, Sophia-sama. I’m sorry. Once again, thank you very much for coming. If it’s alright with you, let’s continue from where we left off last time.”
While she said so, Katarina urged me over to a table prepared with sweets and tea.
Although I started off very anxious, after actually talking with Katarina for some time, those feelings vanished. Being able to chat with someone about the books I loved for the first time like this, was like a dream come true.
Then, the dream was over too quick and time was up, the sun was setting before I even noticed, and my family servant raised her voice and said that “it’s time that we have to go now.”
And then when I stood up to leave, I heard Katarina’s voice imploring me.
“You really do have such beautiful hair. May I touch it just a little?”
My face became stiff by reflex. What on earth exactly is Katarina saying…… There’s no way that this disgusting white hair can be considered beautiful……
Before I realized it, I asked the question that had been bothering me all this time since I met Katarina.
“Katarina-sama isn’t disgusted by the way I look?”
Whenever I go out, people would look at me strangely, and would whisper that I’m disgusting.
“……Hair like an old person’s and eyes as red as blood…… Everyone says I’m disgusting and a cursed child……”
There’s nothing beautiful about me at all. I’m just, only a disgusting existence……
“Saying you’re cursed… What on earth?”
Katarina was muttering to herself while seemingly shocked.
“It’s just slander…… It’s merely abusive rumors spread by those jealous of father’s achievements.”
My brother’s voice sounded very cold. My gentle family is always covering for me like this……
“……Even so, it doesn’t change the fact that the way I am is disgusting.”
I always received a lot of verbal abuse for my albino appearance. It’s always been like this. Why did I have to be born like this…… I want to have been born as pretty as Sophia from the story.
“But, I think you’re pretty though……”
Katarina mumbled something. Pretty? What on earth are you talking about? I just stared at Katarina.
“I think, that Sophia-sama’s silken white hair, and eyes that sparkle like rubies are very beautiful in my opinion.”
Katarina was smiling at me as she said so.
Silken white hair, and eyes that sparkle like rubies. I wonder if she’s really talking about me…… It’s so hard to believe, but…… Katarina’s light blue eyes didn’t seem like they were lying.
She’s the person that helped me during the tea party just like an ally of justice. She’s a girl like the Emerald Princess from the story.
“As such, I’ll be very happy if you could continue coming over to play with me. And if it’s alright with you, won’t you be friends with me?”
Katarina held my hands tightly.
“One day, a wonderful friend who understands Sophia will definitely appear.” I never really believed those words that my family told me. After all, such a person shouldn’t exist……
Such a person, even though I thought they wouldn’t exist –
Everyone looks at me with such strange looks – for someone to say that I’m beautiful, and even to want to be friends with me –
My hands were trembling in Katarina’s hands. She gripped my hands tightly, and was smiling so happily.
Is this all just a dream…… While I was still being confused in the horse-drawn carriage on the way back, my brother showed off a big smile that I hardly ever see.
“I’m glad that you made a friend.”
Friend…… I always thought such a thing was impossible. That’s why I always spent my time alone in my room with my imagination.
But, in truth I really, really wanted a friend. I’ve always, always been wanting one.
I remembered how warm Katarina’s hands were, and her happy smile.
I had always wanted a friend, and had finally obtained one after having given up on it already.
And then, after that, while visiting the Claes mansion, I made friends with the twin princes, Katarina’s brother Keith, and Katarina’s friend Mary.
I had always been alone in my room, but my world suddenly became much wider.
Katarina’s friend Mary said this to me.
“Not long ago, I was always filled with self-loathing…… I hated this brown hair and these brown eyes of mine.”
I was very surprised. She was just like Katarina, a very respectable lady, I can’t see any reason why Mary would hate herself…… And I couldn’t believe that she would hate such beautiful hair and eyes……
“But, after Katarina-sama told me over and over that she thinks I’m wonderful, that she likes me, that I’m really cute…… Now I don’t hate myself anymore. I’ve also come to like this hair and these eyes of mine. That’s why, Sophia will surely be fine as well.”
Mary said so while looking at me.
Nobody that gathers here in this mansion, including Mary, thinks I’m disgusting.
And, Katarina is always saying, that my hair and eyes are beautiful, and wonderful. Even though everyone always thought I looked disgusting…… Katarina was praising me from the bottom of her heart.
One day, I’ll be able to love myself just like Mary does…… I wonder if one day this albino appearance of mine will become accepted……
I don’t know what will come in the future. But, now I’m able to believe that such a day might even come.
“Thank you very much.”
I said thank you to Mary. Then, she smiled as if to challenge me.
“But, I definitely won’t hand Katarina-sama over to you~”
I had always thought it would be best for me to read books by myself in my gilded cage…… But, I was able to fly out into the world and discover so much more than that.