The seasons changed with the time, and now it was summer.
“This is the Red Rose Room, for your use, Lady Diana.”
After all was said and done, Diana ended up entering the harem after all. Sighing in her heart about the excessively accommodating reception, she thus became the owner of this room.
A count in the Kingdom of Elgrand was a fairly high rank. Below the royal family were the dukes, who had once been part of the royal family, the marquesses, who had served the royal family since the founding of the nation, the counts, who had been enfeoffed key lands, the viscounts, who had been entrusted with the frontiers, and finally the barons.
In a vacuum, it would appear as though the counts were somewhere in the middle, but in reality the gap between a count and viscount was vast. Furthermore, there were the unspoken power disparities between the comital houses themselves.
When it came to the aforementioned Cresters, they were the most powerful of all comital houses, as good as any marquess. So powerful in fact, that the weaker margravial houses took care not to provoke them. It was no exaggeration to call them an outlier in the otherwise strictly hierarchal Kingdom of Elgrand.
With such a formidable maiden family, no lady of their house would suffer slights in the inner harem.
“What will you do now, my Lady? Giving you the Red Rose Room means that they’ve selected you as a candidate for queen consort, doesn’t it?”
“I really wasn’t expecting to be treated so well… But it’s just a matter of our maiden families. After all, there have been marquesses’ daughters in the harem before. When they make the hierarchy so clear, it really leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”
At this moment, over fifty ladies were gathered in the inner harem, the daughters of nobles ranging from marquesses to barons. As somebody who disliked inefficiencies, the pointlessness of the affair was really getting on Diana’s nerves.
“It’s such a waste of resources, this harem. I won’t disagree that it expedites the process of His Majesty finding a girl that he likes, but aren’t there too many of us in here?”
“As you say, my Lady. At fifty people, His Majesty would sooner run out of energy than find the right woman…”
“Roaming from one woman’s bedroom to another, night after night… If he’s unlucky there might not even be a single pregnancy.”
The Crester family stressed two things when it came to pregnancies. The first was love. The second was getting the timing right. With that philosophy in mind, the royal harem’s numbers-game shotgun approach was truly crude. From that point of view, there were few systems less conducive to the conception of children than the royal harem.
“Even if they did manage a pregnancy, depending on the gender, the next heir to the throne… Would you even be able to properly care for them in a place like this? This is truly such an impractical place.”
“You say that because you’re kind, Lady Diana… Ah, let me make some tea.”
“Thank you, Lita.”
Lita had been the only maid to follow Diana from the manor. Being close in age and growing up like sisters together, there was nobody who knew her better. When the royal edict had come, Diana had asked her family to let her bring Lita alone. She hadn’t wanted to bring servants along, so in the end her family could only ask Lita to look after her.
“Speaking of which, I heard that when the high ranking ladies wanted to bring crowds of maids into the harem, the court ladies had to stop them in a panic.”
“Well of course. There are already fifty people here. If each of them wanted to bring a warm of followers, the harem’s budget would be dust. The royal treasury is hardly inexhaustible.”
“Lord Crester had been worried about that too.”
Unwilling to burden the kingdom, the Crester family had taken care of all of Diana’s needs. It was a testament to the ability of her family that everything had gone so smoothly.
…Only, for some reason, that had led to the infamy of House Crester rising yet again.
As Diana enjoyed Lita’s tea, the sound of knocking came from the door. It was Lita who answered.
“Yes? Who is it?”
“I’m the head court lady in charge of managing the harem. Might I enter?”
“Please wait a moment.”
With a look from Diana, Lita trotted over to the door. As for Diana, she stood up and tucked her chair back in, waiting by the desk instead.
“Please come in,” said Lita.
A plump court lady with a deep blue coat came in. No sooner had she entered did the woman stop in her tracks and stare intently at Diana.
“…Is something the matter?” Diana asked, startling the woman out of her reverie.
“Oh, please excuse me!”
The court lady walked further into the centre of the room and bowed in Diana’s direction.
“It is my honour to meet you. I am the head court lady, Sarah Maris.”
“Maris…?” asked Diana. “One of Count Maris’ relatives?”
“Humbly, Count Maris is my husband.”
“I understand. A pleasure to meet you. My name is Diana Crester. I shall be in your care henceforth.”
Greetings exchanged, the two looked at each other. Diana smiled and continued.
“I’ve spent all my time in Crester lands, so I’m unfamiliar with palace etiquette. If you could guide me from time to time, I would be most glad.”
“Oh, no! As the Red Rose, how could I possibly teach you anything…!”
“Oh…? Then I suppose it cannot be helped,” Diana said.
…For some reason, the woman seemed ill at ease.
“The court ladies responsible for the Red Rose Room and the attendant maids will introduce themselves to you later. If you experience any discomfort, please let them know.”
“Please excuse me.”
With that, the head court lady quietly but hastily left the room. After watching expressionlessly, Diana turned to Lita.
“…How do you think she interpreted my words?”
“Hmmm… If I may be presumptuous, when you said ‘I’m unfamiliar with palace etiquette’, she may have heard ‘so you had better do things my way’. And then when you said ‘if you could guide me from time to time, I would be most glad’, it may have sounded like ‘from now on you work for me’.”
“…Who on earth said any of that?”
Although it was routine by now, Diana could not help but feel dumbfounded. It was during moments like these that she could most strongly feel the effects of her Crester blood.
Diana Crester, daughter of Count Crester.
Also known as the ‘Blooming Rose of Ice and Fire’.
Wavy locks of golden hair reminiscent of the sun. Azure eyes like the sparkling ocean. Both of these were features inherited from her mother, but under her Crester blood, the way they expressed was different.
In a way, there was a sense of artistry to the changes.
Diana Crester had a straight nose, lively almond-shaped eyes, and captivating red lips. It was said that men and women of all ages were bewitched and terrified with but a glance. She spared no mercy to any who opposed her, manipulated men with but a graceful smile, and would always get her way.
Rumour had it that there was nothing more spine-chilling than her smiles when she thought up a ‘fun’ idea, but that very smile was also when her mesmerising beauty was most fiery, truly a dreadful rose.
Such stories of Diana Crester had been unending since she debuted at age fifteen.
“Honestly, it’s always rumours about things I haven’t the faintest recollection of doing. Why is it that whenever anybody in my family says anything, people can’t help but have auditory hallucinations?”
“It’s the fright’s fault. If they listened more carefully, this would never happen,” said Lita.
“Indeed,” sighed Diana.
Diana was a young girl too. She had looked forward to her debut as much as any other noble girl her age. Having spent all her life in the Crester fiefdom, Diana had naturally dreamed about life outside of it.
Unfortunately, the moment her brother escorted her into the debutante ball, intelligent as she was, Diana abandoned any ideas of being like ‘any other noble girl’. That was how intense the staring had been.
The only ones who approached her had been those with ulterior motives. Young men had been particularly eager, to the point of repulsiveness. Diana had just turned fifteen, but men openly and blatantly leered at her well-proportioned figure. Many seemed to treat her as a potential casual bedroom partner. Perhaps the Crester looks had played a part in giving them the impression she was interested in that sort of hedonism.
“How about it…? Let’s you and I have a wonderful night together?” one of them had asked.
Diana said, “I must decline. Tonight is my debut. I trust you understand?”
The message implied had been, of course, ‘What are you saying to a fifteen-year-old girl you creepy pedo?’ but for some reason what he heard was ‘Nobody asked for the likes of you. For my debut night, I require a much more impressive, and suitable partner.’
Thus, on the very first day she debuted into society, rumours had already begun to spread about the little temptress with men wrapped around her finger.
Things only got worse from there, because every time she said anything without enough thought, her words would be reinterpreted in truly misguided ways. Before she knew it, Diana had already been crowned with the unwanted title of ‘the wickedest bad girl of high society’.
“I say… leaving aside whether or not I remember doing these things, my reputation is undeniably at rock bottom. So why the Red Rose Room?”
“Who knows… Perhaps to them, reputation and status are different matters? If that’s the case, then perhaps the harem staff overthought things and concluded that Lord Crester used his power to enter you into the harem. It would explain the special treatment they’re giving you.”
“…That sounds quite likely. Goodness, who even asked for this…?”
Diana certainly hadn’t wanted to enter the harem, nor had Elisabeth, Dualis, or Edward. Not one person had even considered the possibility. Her family knew well that her personality was a poor match for the place.
Unfortunately, the rest of society was under the impression that Count Crester forced the harem to accept Diana, both to spoil his daughter and to grasp control of the throne. Likewise, the assumption was that Diana herself was vying to become queen consort. Why things had come to this was due to multiple factors, however.
“Being the queen would be such a bother… And I can already predict what a pain relationships with the other girls is going to be… What am I even doing here?”
“Oh, my poor Lady Diana…! I swear to find a way to get you out of here, my Lady!”
“Thank you, Lita. You’re the only one I can rely on.”
…Ordinarily, this would be a very out-of-place exchange to having with her maid for the girl closest to emerging victorious in the struggle to become queen. Both Diana and Lita were deadly serious, however.
Two knocks on the door interrupted their conversation. Lita headed for the door and informed Diana that the maids and court ladies had arrived.
“Let them in,” said Diana.
“Yes. Please come in, everyone.”
After Lita opened the door, about a dozen maids and two court ladies entered the room. Incidentally, the marked difference in clothing made court ladies quite distinguishable from the maids.
“Lady Red Rose, it is an honour to meet you. My name is Mia, the court lady assigned to serve the Red Rose Room henceforth. To my side is my fellow court lady Isla, as well as the vice-head maid Juli.
Each girl bowed as she was introduced.
“It is my honour to meet you,” said Isla.
“I vow to serve you with all my heart,” said Juli.
Apparently these three were the highest ranked amongst the servants assigned here, Diana realised. Diana smiled.
“Thank you for introducing yourselves. I’m Diana Crester. This is my maid Lita, who joined me here from home. The two of us will be in your care from now on,” she said.
Diana’s response had apparently surprised one of the maids. They had all been bowing to Diana, but the one with the black hair, memorable for its rarity, looked up at Diana in shock. Their eyes met, so Diana decided to just smile, but this only had the effect of making the girl look more shocked.
…Had somebody misunderstood something again?
“…Umm, Lady Diana? May I speak?” said Mia.
“Huh? Oh, yes, what is it?”
The maids had stopped bowing at some point, and Mia, with a solemn expression, made her announcement.
—His Majesty would be visiting Diana tonight.