I suffered from a certain disease—the very disease of overinterpretation.
Even the most insignificant actions of others prompted me to ponder, ‘Could it be that they acted this way out of affection for me?’ Thus, in response to Reinhardt’s words, I was inevitably led to such ruminations.
‘Could it be that his inability to sleep deeply is due to being enamored? No way, I’m well aware I have been mostly deluding myself with such notions. Moreover, it’s more than likely that the protagonist himself, Reinhardt, would hardly be smitten by anyone other than Lucia.’
“Have I been sleep-talking?”
“Admirably, you rested soundly.”
“Then why couldn’t you sleep?”
Reinhardt, who used to respond immediately, suddenly fell silent. Only after a considerable pause did he resume speaking.
“…Simply put, I couldn’t sleep due to my insomnia.”
* * *
‘…Did Reinhardt truly have insomnia?’
As I contemplated over a plate of smoked lobster, thoughts of him from the novel ‘My Contract Husband is Strange’ crossed my mind. Although it had been a while since I read it, I distinctly recalled that Reinhardt was one to fall asleep at the drop of a hat.
‘Could it be that my involvement has altered Reinhardt’s life somehow?’
Such a possibility seemed plausible.
Well, he was pretty sensitive. The prospect of sharing a bedroom with someone of that nature… sleep would undoubtedly be a challenge. Thankfully, once Camilla left the mansion and Reinhardt journeyed north, we would no longer share the same bed.
Despite the fact that others might find our arrangement peculiar, considering his task of guarding the northern region while I worked to secure Erestein’s influence in the capital, there shouldn’t be major issues.
Lost in thought, I suddenly remembered Camilla and Reinhardt before me. Right, we were currently partaking in a meal together due to her suggestion.
‘I have to focus.’
If I let my mind wander, I risked creating an opportunity for Camilla to catch me off guard.
“Your Excellency! Something urgent has occurred!”
At that moment, Jade hurriedly entered the dining hall.
“What is the matter? Has Gerard perhaps shown up again?”
Seated next to me, Reinhardt inquired Jade, who shook his head in response.
“No, Your Excellency! It’s… the Duke and Duchess of Hoover, the young lord of Hoover as well. They have come.”
My family members had arrived? While I anticipated their disapproval of our union, their visit was ill-timed, especially with Camilla present.
“The Duke of Hoover has brought an invitation for a party… what should we do?”
Jade’s eyes met mine, seeking my guidance. I might know who they were, so sending an invitation there instead of here directly was strange. Perhaps they were unaware that I had become the Duchess of Erestein?
“Well. It’s an invitation, but who might it be from?”
“It’s from someone named ‘Ella Candia.’ The invitation is for a party at the imperial palace in honor of her birthday.”
As the name echoed in my mind, Reinhardt turned his gaze towards me and spoke.
“It seems that she sent an invitation to Hoover Duchy without knowing that you’re not there. We haven’t held the wedding yet, so it’s possible they are unaware that you’re now the Duchess of Erestein.”
Still, that was not the case. Although I initially thought like Reinhardt, my perspective changed upon hearing the name of the sender.
Ella Candia was the 21st concubine of the Emperor.
I was to become the 22nd concubine, so she had been intensely wary of me. She was well-versed in social circles, and there was no way that she wouldn’t have heard the news of Reinhardt and my marriage that set the ballroom abuzz.
Sending me an invitation as the young lady of Hoover Duchy was undoubtedly intentional.
‘She must’ve thought the rumours were nonsense. It’s utterly preposterous. Living as a young lady of Hoover Duchy, subservient and oppressed… She must’ve thought it suits me better.’
Perhaps this was something she wanted to convey.
“What would be the best course of action? About your family, I will follow your decision.”
I responded to Reinhardt’s words by looking at Jade with a composed expression.
“It’s unnecessary, so please inform them to leave immediately.”
Sending an invitation was just an excuse since they had likely come to stir up trouble. Even knowing this, entertaining them with open arms was a foolish move.
Carmilla, who had been focused on her food until then, raised an eyebrow with a peculiar expression. Wondering what was on her mind, I looked at her, and Jade captured her gaze.
“And… invitations have also arrived for both of you.”
“For me, too?”
Carmilla accepted the invitation that Jade handed her.
“How did they know I’m here?”
“Rumors have spread through society that the Grand Duke has left the northern territories and arrived in the Capital.”
“Is that so? It’s strange. Even though I’ve only been here for a few days, there shouldn’t have been any rumors, but news about Lady Hoover doesn’t seem to have reached them.”
“As I mentioned earlier. Since we haven’t held our wedding yet, they probably don’t know that Irovel is here.”
Camilla, who until recently had seemed puzzled by Ella’s actions, now looked meaningfully at Reinhardt.
“My son is still naive. People in society are not as innocent as you might think.”
‘In reality, she knew everything yet pretended not to.’
Indeed, people in society specialize in knowing everything while pretending not to.
“My daughter-in-law must have done something for these pests to cling on so shamelessly.”
Carmilla sipped her wine with a brilliantly charming smile. Surveying me from head to toe, she muttered a few words under her breath.
“It seems she knows well why these pests have attached themselves. She truly is an annoying daughter-in-law.”
Nonetheless, she might have viewed me favorably enough to push for the union. Why the sudden criticism?
In that moment, as I pondered, Carmilla stood up and spoke.
“Come along immediately.”
* * *
“Reinhardt’s fondness for you may grant you acceptance as my daughter-in-law, but I do not particularly find you pleasing.”
Camilla spoke within the carriage, the destination unknown.
Well, it was expected.
Even in the original story, she never took a liking to Lucía. Eventually, she came around to support her though Reinhardt’s excessive attention to Lucia left an inevitable impression. Even the protagonist, beloved by all, couldn’t earn Camilla’s approval… so as an extra like me, it would be even harder.
Considering my past life as an idol, I was well aware that not anyone can be loved by all. So, this was entirely foreseeable, and I wasn’t especially disappointed.
“What aspects of me do you find displeasing?”
However, it was discomforting to know someone disliked me, so I asked openly. At the very least, I wanted to know the reason.
“Firstly, that dress.”
Camilla pointed at my dress with her finger.
The dress I was wearing had been brought from Hoover Duchy, one of the few I had. While it might not have been obvious at a glance, it was slightly frayed upon closer inspection. Moreover, it was a bit loose, not fitting my size properly.
Camilla’s comment summarized her various observations, each pointing out oddities in the dress, probably causing me some discomfort.
“My mother gave me a dress that doesn’t even fit.”
I replied with confidence, unashamed. Nobles often had their clothes tailored to their measurements. Wearing hand-me-downs or previously worn garments was a significant embarrassment. Yet, I did not find it embarrassing.
“Why are those wretched shoes so shabby?”
“These shoes were given to me just like the dress.”
“Why is your hair so disheveled? Did you starve in Hoover Duchy?”
This… was due to the limits of the magical technique that concealed my hair color.
I couldn’t tell her the truth about this matter. However, Camilla seemed to interpret my hesitation positively.
“Don’t call her ‘mother.’ There’s no one in this world you can call ‘mother.’ Your birth mother isn’t in this world anymore.”
‘…Huh? Is she trying to comfort me?’
Camilla, of all people, was saying, ‘Your birth mother isn’t in this world anymore.’ It wasn’t sarcasm, but she was actually offering comfort.
Feeling a touch moved, the carriage came to a halt.
Saying so, she stepped out of the carriage swiftly, and I followed her with hesitant steps. We arrived at the Capital’s most renowned salon.
Camilla, as though she was familiar, led me to the salon’s madame.
“Is there a single aspect of this child, from head to toe, that pleases you?”
“Oh my, she’s quite the severe one, just as you say!”
“That’s right. Honestly, merely looking at her makes me angry!”
…Wasn’t it clear that the two of them were ganging up on me?