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Born when Sigurd was three, his younger sister was, to him, an existence that could only cry and flail about.
Even so, when Sigurd reached out to touch her with just a timid finger, she grasped that finger, wrapping it up in a palm smaller than an autumn leaf. The moment her jade green eyes peered up at Sigurd’s young face and he saw her round cheeks, plump from laughing happily while babbling and cooing in a clumsy voice, something implanted itself in his heart. It was an oath, a lofty promise to protect the precious, newborn angel lying before him for the rest of her life.
That oath was broken quickly.
As he grew older and started to understand how the world worked, what he found was an ever-growing mountain of evil deeds built by his father, who in turn scorned Sigurd, but spoiled his younger sister. Rumours spread among the gossiping nobles, as they pointed their fingers at him for not having a single outward trait of the Asbal family.
At the age of seven, his sister was chosen as the Crown Prince’s fiancee, and simultaneously, became the Dragon Priestess with the duty to oversee the shrine’s rituals. Around the same time, Sigurd, who had been allowed to enter the Knights’ platoon, became acquainted with Crown Prince Vikram. As they grew up, so did their friendship and trust.
Occasionally, he would overhear rumours about his sister’s reputation, and every single one was terrible. While His Highness would give a wry smile wryly and say “As expected of your sister,” but Sigurd himself couldn’t help but feel shame.
And then, fate brought a beautiful girl to the side of those supporting the Crown Prince.
A sacred maiden brought over from a remote village for the sake of becoming the Sacrificial Priestess who would be offered to Ancient Dragon Kharis.
There was no citizen who didn’t know that Placemith prospered because of the ancient dragon’s grace. For that reason, Sacrificial Priestess, who would become the Ancient Dragon Kharis’s fuel, was guaranteed a high social status and was respected and waited upon by even the royalty.
At first, it was just to comfort Nasha, who was confined to a room in the royal castle that the Crown Prince, and Sigurd in his role as His Highness’s Imperial Knight, visited the Sacrificial Priestess’s room. Because of this duty, Sigurd had the chance to meet her. Eventually, his feelings began to change.
It was the same for them too; Sigurd, Lutora, Morino, and Crown Prince Vikram. They were all the same. On the condition that she must be accompanied by someone, Nasha was allowed to leave the room she was confined in, and bravely faced her fate. She desperately gathered information, never discouraged by the burden of her unfortunate circumstances, as she earnestly moved forward.
I want to become Nasha’s strength, he’d thought.
I want to remain by Nasha’s side, supporting her, he’d prayed.
However, the man she’d chosen was His Highness Vikram.
Her younger sister, who bore the same face, fell in love with Sigurd, despite his thoughts still being full of Nasha. After receiving her confession, Sigurd decided to accept her feelings.
He accepted her for the sake of being able to pray for the happiness of his Lord, Vikram, and the first woman he ever loved.
He accepted for the sake of killing those feelings.
Crouching on the lawn under the shadows of branches, Sigurd sat with his head between his knees until he felt someone draw near.
A reserved hand reached and touched Sigurd’s black hair before cupping his cheek with her palm.
When he lifted his head slightly, his sister stood there with a frown on her beautiful face
The sister that Sigurd had, the entourage had, pushed into the depths of hell with their schemes.
Enduring ten years of excruciating pain, only to finally be discarded by the Crown Prince and her future ripped from her.
His beautiful sister stood before him.
“Brother, my dear brother…”
“Even if we aren’t related by blood, you’re still my precious brother.”
This sister, whom he’d started living with at Morino’s request in order to guard and observe her, wasn’t exactly the rumoured Dragon Priestess he’d heard so much about. He’d heard that Julieta had hurled cruel words at Nasha when she had visited the temple with Crown Prince Vikram, but if an engaged man was escorting a young lady who wasn’t his betrothed, it would be enough to foul anyone’s mood.
Engrossed in reading fairy tales, admiring small animals and the greenery in the courtyard, challenging dessert making in the kitchen with the maids, Julieta had been freed from the intense pain of being the Dragon Priestess. She was living her days to the fullest as if trying to make up for lost time.
Even with all that, her small body, even now offering up prayers to the sun as it began to set, bore the traces of the scars left in her heart.
Julieta hadn’t rejected the role His Highness forced upon her, but even if he understood the pain she had gone through and all the time she had dedicated to him—
It was already too late.
What could he do? How could he get her to open her heart to him?
The only one who could heal her loneliness and pain was, as much as he detested and regretted the fact, their father and no one else.
Which brought him back to today.
He’d heard the secret of his birth as he eavesdropped through the wall, a secret that had given reason to his father’s hidden distress and poor treatment towards himself.
How could his father face Sigurd, a child born of his mother’s infidelity, a visible proof of betrayal, and still show him love?
“Julieta…You…knew about it?”
Even if she had overheard the conversation from the study through the walls like him, Julieta was not as distressed by the news.
It was possible she’d already known he was not her brother by blood.
Asking her with his gaze, Julieta replied with a small nod as she wiped away the tears running down Sigurd’s cheeks with her fingers.
“There was something that Father once said when he came to visit me in the temple.”
“He’d happily told me all about your knightly achievements, and then afterwards had muttered to himself, ‘Blood will tell.”
“Even as flattery, one could not say that Father is skilled with a sword.”
“Yes…Although, I was only certain of it just now.”
His very foundation was crumbling beneath his feet.
The world he thought to be true, the justice he had unwavering faith in, was collapsing all around him.
He couldn’t protect a single thing.
He couldn’t save a single thing.
His family had been supporting him all this time in silence, and yet he was the one to push them off the cliff.
“If only you hated me more…!”
How much easier it would have been that way?
If he was despised, treated cruelly, or had salt rubbed in his wounds, the agony and regret he felt wouldn’t be this intense.
She held his face between her hands as he clenched his teeth together.
Julieta stared straight at him with tears in her hazel eyes.
“…I love you, my dear brother.”
“You’re the only one I have, you know? Even Father couldn’t love you well… Afraid of being hurt, he always kept you at arm’s length.”
“I won’t allow you to be hurt. I will protect you from anything that may hurt you. …That’s why…”
The angel with swaying silver hair smiled.
“Don’t cry, Brother. Julieta is here by your side.”
His aim when becoming a knight was to protect the people who had guided him since his youth, and to protect his beloved country.
That’s why, to be protected by someone else, by such an ephemeral girl—
Driven by a sudden impulse, Sigurd pulled Julieta into a hug.
The body he held was light as a feather, the shoulders clad in the collar of her sopravveste1 were delicate enough to break.
Despite that, the floral fragrance wafting from her long hair, and sweet body warmth of a young lady warmed his skin where they touched.
Her pale fingertips pressed a handkerchief to Sigurd’s snot-sniveling face.
“Oh Brother. You’re such a crybaby,” she said in a teasing voice that sounded like the chiming of bells.
“…I love you.”
On that day, he’d sworn an oath to when the newborn Julieta first grasped his finger. Even if he wasn’t allowed to do so, he would do so once again anyway.
“I love you too…Julieta. My precious, one and only sister.”
“…I want to kill the me of that day…! Believing only in rumours, not knowing of your pain and suffering…!”
“Even though I’m your elder brother. Even though I’m your family…!”
Within Sigurd’s arms.
Julieta weakly shook her head.
“I am the daughter of Asbal. Our original purpose was to serve the royal family and support them from the shadows…Thus, for daring to wish for His Highness’s affection…it was my comeuppance.”
“Such a thing…!”
“…It’s fine, Brother.”
“For someone as thoughtless as I to remain as his fiancee, surely His Highness would feel annoyed.”
“I offer sincerest apologies and deepest regret, ut I will no longer be a bother, I would be grateful if you could forgive me.”
What did my sister say she did?
Did she truly deserve retribution to the point she was in such pain? Must she bear this blame with only a sorrowful smile?.
There was no mistaking it, the one who should have borne the blame was none other than Sigurd himself, and along with him—
He could see them in his mind—
The smiling face of his first love, and the profiles of the friends he held in such high esteem.
were clear in his mind.
They are unrelated by blood.
(Hasr: Sorry for posting this so late, my internet’s been crappy the past few days)