“I have something to say to… excuse me?”
Cecille’s unexpected reaction stunned the onlookers for a moment, as if they had been hit from behind. Meanwhile, Duke Bartholomew’s expression remained serious.
“I will gladly welcome Your Highness to my estate. However, this arrangement can only be temporary. For Your Highness to continue to reside with me would require the approval of the Imperial Family. Regrettably, I believe that even Her Majesty the Empress, while she might allow Your Highness to stay for a short time, would not approve of an extended stay. I trust Your Highness understands that.”
Cecille nodded in agreement.
“That is acceptable to me. I don’t mind a temporary stay at your estate. I understand the situation.”
From Cecille’s point of view, this was an excellent offer.
“Even if temporary, it’s better than staying in this cramped room. Perhaps something will change, or we’ll find a solution during my stay at your estate.”
Making her decision quickly, Cecille nodded once more.
“All right! That’s fine with me. Let’s go to your estate!”
* * *
Cecille’s departure to the Duke’s estate marked the beginning of a new chapter in her life. As she sat in the Duke’s carriage awaiting his return from the palace, she couldn’t help but reflect on the unexpected turn of events.
‘Surely he went to the palace to get the Emperor’s permission for me to stay,’ Cecille thought to herself.
In the days before her regression, Duke Bartholomew had been known as one of the most formidable villains, often pitted against her. But now, two decades had passed since those turbulent times. The relationship between the Duke’s household and the Imperial family had not become openly hostile, and on the surface, they maintained a tense cooperation.
‘The Emperor has his reasons for making such an arrangement with the Duke. Even if it’s just a short loan of a princess he has no interest in, it must benefit him somehow.’
Cecille looked at the Duke sitting across from her.
She had willingly provoked him at the presentation and had even asked for his consent to stay at his estate. From a political standpoint, it was undoubtedly a disadvantageous move for her.
‘He is not the type of person to make such a politically unwise decision just to appease a child. So what’s the reason for his generosity toward me?’ Cecille pondered.
Years of living as a black mage had shaped Cecille’s mindset, making her distrust pure kindness or goodwill. She couldn’t help but believe that there was a hidden agenda behind the Duke’s actions.
The evening sun cast long shadows through the carriage window, deepening the Duke’s contemplative expression. Cecille watched the play of light and shadow on his eyelashes.
Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined being so close to him, and in such a peaceful atmosphere.
Before her regression, Cecille and the Duke had been sworn enemies. She had lived her life on the run, constantly pursued by him. The memories of those days still haunted her, and she couldn’t help but feel a lingering fear of him.
It was because of those experiences that Cecille remained cautious and suspicious, even in her current situation.
‘He went to great lengths to hunt me down for over a decade back then. I’m still wary of him,’ she thought, remembering the Duke’s relentless pursuit.
Cecille’s mind wandered, and she couldn’t help but remember the past.
‘Regardless of his hidden agenda, I don’t care.’
She put her hand to her lips, as if to erase the taste of her thoughts, and wiped her sweaty hand on the edge of her dress.
‘Whatever plans he has in mind, it doesn’t concern me.’
Cecille had made up her mind.
‘Let him use me as he pleases. After all, I intend to use him as well. Let’s make a mutually beneficial deal, Duke Bartholomew.’
* * *
To Cecille, the Duke’s most important value was that he provided her with a stable life. She didn’t need excessive luxury; what she needed was a place where she wouldn’t be in danger, harassed, or persecuted. Safety and comfort were all she wanted.
Cecille hadn’t worried about this aspect at all. It was only natural, since this was Duke Bartholomew’s residence. As the most powerful noble in the realm, she expected everything to be orderly, clean, and comfortable.
However, there was one thing she hadn’t anticipated– the condition of the mansion.
‘The garden is overgrown with weeds. The furniture is lavish, but it’s covered in dust, and there are even cobwebs on the ceiling,’ Cecille thought, surprised by the state of the mansion.
In a typical manor, there would be well-dressed servants taking care of everything. But here, there was no sign of any servants.
Even for someone like Cecille, who was used to living on the run, the level of disorder was shocking.
‘What is this? This doesn’t even compare to my hideouts!’
Before her regression, Cecille had often moved from one safe haven to another. They weren’t as luxurious as a noble’s mansion, but they were comfortable and functional. There was always a pot of warm magic brew on the stove, books floating around, and skeleton servants to attend to her needs. Despite her situation, she never had to deal with such cobwebs.
When Cecille gave the Duke a skeptical look, he offered an explanation.
“Two years ago, our housekeeper retired due to old age, and since then I haven’t paid much attention to the upkeep of the mansion. In addition, all the servants have left, so currently there’s only a cook and a maid.”
It made sense to Cecille why the Duke had neglected the upkeep of his estate.
‘Considering that the Duke lost his wife three years ago and was deeply saddened by it, it’s understandable that he neglected the estate.’
But that didn’t make her feel any better about the situation.
“Still, I didn’t expect it to be this bad,” she muttered to herself.
The Duke seemed to hear her muttering and added, “I planned to replenish the staff and renovate the mansion soon to make your stay more comfortable.”
Although Cecille couldn’t complain, she couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the current disrepair.
“Until we replenish the staff, the maid here will take care of you exclusively, Your Highness,” the Duke added, sensing her concern.
Cecille replied, “Very well. I appreciate your hospitality, Duke.”
As the conversation ended, a servant appeared in the corridor.
“Have you arrived safely, my lord?” she asked.
She was tall and well built.
“This is Princess Cecilia Winona Lynn, Your Grace. She will be staying here temporarily, so see that she is comfortable during her stay,” the Duke instructed.
“Of course, my lord.”
The maid then turned to Cecille.
“Please follow me, Your Highness. I apologize for the state of the room. Until the mansion is renovated, please make yourself comfortable here.”
Although the maid apologized, the room was in much better condition than the lobby and hallways. It was obvious that the Duke had given Cecille the best room available.
Cecille nodded, her initial shock slowly fading.
“Thank you. And please call me something more comfortable than ‘Your Highness.’ Cecille will do. Or even ‘Miss.’”
The maid hesitated for a moment, then replied, “I’m sorry, but that’s not possible.”
“Then at least ‘young lady.’ I don’t want to be called ‘Your Highness’ here,” Cecille demanded.
The maid Ann seemed to consider her request for a moment before answering, “Very well, Miss Cecille.”
Cecille smiled slightly, satisfied with the compromise.
In the dimly lit room, Cecille could see Ann’s eyes shaking uncontrollably. Finally, Ann nodded.
“All right, Miss Cecille,” she replied.
After Ann brought her a meal, Cecille bathed, changed into fresh clothes, and lay down on the bed.
“Sweet dreams, Miss Cecille,” Ann said as she turned off the light and left the room, leaving Cecille alone in the dark.
This was the time Cecille had been waiting for. She clambered from the covers and sat on the edge of the bed. She brought her hands together to form a triangle in front of her chest, then closed her eyes.
She began to collect the mana in her body. Compared to before her regression, her mana capacity was minuscule, but there was some consolation. Her body’s ability to recover was excellent, thanks to her youth.
After using magic at the lecture, she was so exhausted that she almost collapsed. However, most of the mana she had used then had already been restored.
‘I need to get better as soon as possible, at least enough to defend myself. If I practice mana circulation every day, I should improve sooner rather than later.’
As she spread her mana through her body and circulated it, Cecille suddenly spoke a name.