“……What exactly is this?”
Maybe because I had been so stupefied, those words accidentally slipped out. I had just heard something so unexpected, that I just kept staring at Earl Terejia in a daze.
“You’ll have to play together with Elise-dono.”
Earl Terejia’s calm voice crushed my feelings of wanting to escape. Once again, I took a good look at what was in my hand.
It was an elaborate, beautifully made girl doll, but it was creepily deformed by an indescribable smile on it.
I wondered just how much gold it would take to make those golden clothes the doll was wearing in real life size, as I admired the excessiveness of the doll’s extravagant clothing. After all, the amount of frilliness on it was dreadful to behold.
This doll in my hand was a gift from the father of the noble girl currently staying here at my mansion, Elise’s father Baron Sherstok. The baron had even went to the trouble of gifting me a set of two dolls with different designs. This was the meaning behind Earl Terejia’s words just earlier, “you’ll have to play together with Elise-dono.”
Although Elise had come over to Kaldia in order to recuperate from her illness, in name she was also my guest and playmate. But up until now, we’ve never really played, and only visited each other. While Elise is indeed a bit sickly, it’s more of that I’ve simply been so busy that I haven’t been able to spare the time to accompany her.
However, Baron Sherstok wouldn’t know such a thing. The baron is one of those nobles without land of his own, so he basically has very little to do with high noble society, and he wouldn’t know how busy I am or that I have zero interest in dolls.
That said, giving a doll as a gift to his ten year old daughter Elise, this is a very common type of present. In the eyes of most people, I’m probably more of the odd one for not taking the time to play.
Knowing my personal preferences on dolls, Earl Terejia perfunctorily left the office. Left alone, I glanced again at the glittering, sparkly doll.
What do I do, with this. Am I supposed to play with it.
I held its head, and kept wondering what to do.
……In short, Elise is supposed to play with this, I wonder if I should find some playmates for her. I’d think that I don’t necessarily have to be the person playing with her.
While thinking about passing that role on to Ratoka, I started playing with the thick skirt on the doll. Without a doubt, the doll’s costume was overly extravagant, and the embroidery was so fine that I could barely see the stitches connecting the cloth together. A golden rose was sewn neatly into the top of the skirt, reflecting the sunlight prettily.
The more I looked at it, the more I felt like something was slightly off about the embroidery. I kept turning the doll around in my hands, and one part just seemed slightly different.
I flipped up the skirt and checked underneath, and as expected the same type of embroidery was underneath it as well. While I tilted my head and wondered just what it was about this embroidery that seemed strange, I suddenly realized that it seemed almost like it was in the shape of letters of the alphabet.
When I started trying to read it, although it was a bit difficult due to the tiny size and a lack of spaces, it seems that it was an actual message.
“I see, so it was a secret letter.”
Earl Terejia read the message that I wrote down for him on a piece of paper.
“It would seem that this rose is a sign to check for a hidden message. Since Elise usually doesn’t come out of her room while she’s recuperating from her illness here, it seems that Viscount Stadel must have developed these codes and hidden messages for her as a game.”
Elise’s uncle, Viscount Stadel, especially dotes on her as she used to be in such poor health that she couldn’t even get out of bed on some days. I had heard from Elise herself before that he always tried to think of fun things for her to do to escape the boredom of always being confined to bed, that didn’t require her to leave her room.
Since Viscount Stadel doesn’t have any children of his own, maybe he’s pouring out all his affection for his niece. Also, probably due to Elise’s weak body, maybe he’s become a little overprotective. That Elise could grow up so innocently in such an environment, I felt a strange sense of admiration.
“And, did you understand what was written there?”
“Yes. If I add in punctuation and spacing, it’s not so hard. It’s a warning about the movements of the northern nobles.”
At hearing about the northern nobles, Earl Terejia frowned slightly in annoyance.
“I hear that some extremist organizations have been gathering around the northern nobles’ leader, Marquis Nordsturm’s family lately.”
“How foolish. They’re trying to attack Kaldia politically, and make us return the money given to us for the refugees……”
The earl sighed deeply, seeming worn out.
If I think about it calmly, I can organize my emotions. I’m thankful to Viscount Stadel for the information, although I don’t welcome bad news. It’s just that right now, there’s a shortage of labor in Kaldia.
I recalled the malevolent gazes of the northern nobles last time I met them at the House of Lords, and the depressing atmosphere caused by them. While I haven’t verified the contents of this secret letter yet, I definitely believe that I can trust it.