r.

I don’t know how to heal these wounds.

 

* * *

 

I had no idea just how much the Valentino household suffered.

Even when I went to return Theodore’s coat before, I had no time to look around the Valentino estate because the Everett family’s mage was accompanying me.
We moved fast.

I just heard that the territory’s situation was grave.
But this was the first time I was seeing it with my own eyes.

As the carriage passed through Veronis, the Valentino household’s territory, behind the thick curtains and the glass window, I saw a glimpse of hell.

Yes.
Hell.

Right now, there was no better way to describe Veronis other than that it was hell.
All the houses were burnt to ashes and everywhere, there were piles of bodies, both humans and demonic beasts.

Those who survived visibly had injuries, some of their body parts damaged, and they were relieving their hunger by eating black, hard bread dipped in water.

I couldn’t help but think this—if Everett hadn’t isolated Valentino, if Everett had sent reinforcements on time…

My fingertips grew cold and my shoulders shook.
As I saw my father’s sins with my own eyes, it felt like I was about to vomit.

“Ugh…!”

“M-Milady? No, Madam!”

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Charlotte, a maid who followed me, was startled and came to my side with a handkerchief.
I tried to calm down, covering my lips with the handkerchief.

At that time, the carriage suddenly stopped.

“……?”

As I raised my head in question, the door opened suddenly.
And the one who opened that door was Theodore.
Seeing me bent down with a handkerchief covering my mouth, he scoffed in disbelief.

“I guess you can’t stomach this horrendous spectacle.
It seemed to be noisy inside the carriage so we took a look.
It wouldn’t be long until we’re out of the city, so I implore you to wait longer.
Don’t try to look out of the window.”

I wanted to say that it wasn’t for that reason, it wasn’t that I couldn’t stomach that in itself, but he slammed the door before I could even speak.

Charlotte looked blankly at the closed door, but I soon spoke to her with a bitter smile.

“It’s alright.
Go back to your seat and sit properly.”

“…Yes, Madam.”

Charlotte returned to her seat, but she kept looking over to my side, worried.

Soon, the carriage started again.
I realized again how fortunate it was that Charlotte followed me.

There was no other maid in the Everett Duchy who wanted to follow me.
Being an adopted child who wasn’t from a respectable family, the only one who followed me was the orphaned maid Charlotte.

Charlotte turned eighteen years old this year, and she was the same maid who picked up the scissors that Hessen threw in the study at that time.

I thought that her sympathy would disappear soon, but unexpectedly, Charlotte continued to be kind to me.

She seemed to empathize with me, worrying about me deeply.

I was grateful for Charlotte’s kindness, but on the other hand, I felt sorry for her as well.
Even if she stood by my side, I could only lead her down a thorny path.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have brought…”

But Charlotte was looking outside for some reason, then she whispered to me in a small voice.

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“His Grace must have been worried about you all this time, Madam.
When he heard that there was noise inside the carriage… he even checked himself.”

Charlotte’s delusion made me laugh in vain.
But I didn’t tell her otherwise.

 

·

 

The carriage passed through the city and soon reached the Valentino Duchy’s estate.
The scenery inside the castle was less grave than outside.
Even so, it couldn’t be helped that I’d compare it to the peaceful land in the Everett territory…

Somewhere in my heart, it throbbed painfully as though someone had stabbed me with a dagger.

“We’ve arrived.
Please exit the carriage.”

Theodore, who suddenly opened the door, reached out a hand to me with a grim look.
I got up from my seat and held his hand carefully.

I was about to go down on the carriage step, but at that moment, I got a cramp in my leg and I stumbled.

“……!”

Before I could fall flat on my face, Theodore caught me.
Looking up at him, my eyes were wide as I found myself in his arms.
His blue eyes were also wide, perhaps equally surprised.

In those eyes that resembled the deep sea, a calm ripple could be seen on the surface.
With our faces so close, our breaths intermingled.
A strange silence, perhaps tension, flowed between us.

It was someone else, neither him nor me, who broke the silence as we were frozen in time.

“You’ve gone through a lot, Theodore.
Come over here.”

Only then did I back away from him, startled.
Theodore, who blinked once as he stared at me dazedly, looked back towards the direction where the polite voice came.
My gaze naturally headed there as well.

There, with dark brown hair in a neat twisted updo, a noblewoman was standing upright with perfect posture.

Without any words between us, with just the way she was looking at me now, it was clear that she didn’t see me in a favorable light.

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