Helena initially followed Reedmore’s words.
As if confirming that she wouldn’t do anything else, she took a few steps back slowly.
Rather than provoking her opponents with unnecessary protests, she observed them like a venomous snake.
With lowered momentum, she gauged whether her opponent had grasped her venom, and if deception or attack would work on them. The look in her eyes clearly conveyed this to me.
Throughout, Reedmore didn’t glance at Helena.
“Are you okay?”
As soon as he saw Helena safely distanced, he turned to me with concern and worry, his cold gaze replaced by a face full of worry.
“Now. Take my hand and get up.”
He extended a large hand.
It was a hand with calluses in the places where an adult would have, a hand that had held a sword tightly.
It was the hand that had thrown a stone at me.
It was also the hand that had splashed water from the window.
I stared blankly at it.
I reluctantly reached out. Reedmore grabbed my trembling hand and lifted me up with strength.
Helena’s pink lips, as she had been closely observing the whole process, slowly opened.
“It’s been a while, Young Lord Reedmore. I regret not meeting you for so long.”
After assessing the situation, she concealed her venom. She shook hands with Reedmore, who stood somewhat awkwardly, and greeted me kindly.
Reedmore, not bothering to look in that direction, supported my shoulders, which were not standing properly.
Helena, seeing his unresponsive state, paused and then smoothly spoke again.
“My sister and I were having a chat. Is there any issue?”
Only then did Reedmore turn his head.
His face, once again filled with anger, was more familiar to me. It was an expression I had not anticipated when directed toward Helena.
“Is she not frightened?”
“There seems to be a misunderstanding.”
“A misunderstanding? What kind of misunderstanding are you talking about?”
He grit his teeth and shouted.
“I noticed it from the moment she shouted that you were not family. Is it a misunderstanding to threaten her with her life and demand that she come back, holding the memento of our late mother as leverage? Is this how you converse with your sister, using the legacy of our deceased mother as a tool for intimidation?”
His grip on my shoulders tightened.
When I glanced up at him, Reedmore’s neck had a prominent vein, and his jaw was tightly clenched.
The warmth of puppy love had vanished. Only traces of affection remained, clinging to his shaking eyes.
“Young Lady Barden, I didn’t expect you to be this kind of person.”
However, even that veil of love dissipated with Reedmore’s final words.
Helena seemed to sense it, too.
Her hands, quietly joined together, were now released. The slightly hunched back straightened up. The doll-like face, once adorned with a smile, lost its warmth.
“You’re thoroughly soaked.”
She made an abrupt comment.
“What are you talking about all of a sudden?”
“It must be Khalia’s doing, right? This child has had a troublesome habit of causing mischief from a young age, seeking attention.”
A shiver ran through me, and Reedmore felt it through our intertwined hands. He sharply exclaimed, “Stop talking nonsense.”
“Be careful, Young Lady. Since you never know when a child might stab you in the back with a knife,” I retorted, referring to Helena.
Helena turned her gaze away from Reedmore and looked straight at me. Venom dripped from her green eyes, and without averting her gaze from me, she continued speaking.
“She’s a challenging child. She needs a… suitable family to help her.”
I felt captivated by her eyes, as if under a spell, and suddenly my view was blocked.
Reedmore stepped forward again. In a firm voice, he stated, “Khalia is not your family. She is someone cared for by Desmiere.”
His low voice cut through the air with strength. “The duke and I are protecting her.”
As he moved aside, Helena, who had been quietly smiling, came into view. She gracefully lifted her dress and offered a polite greeting.
“For the time being, I entrust that child to you. Be cautious and watch your back.”
She nodded, as if bidding farewell.
“Do not think it will end like this.”
Helena, who was lifting her head, paused.
“You heard everything, you did.”
Surprised, Reedmore looked at her.
Only now did I understand why his attitude had changed. The reason for his unusual tone before meeting Helena and the conversation he had with the duke alone last weekend, guided by Ayla.
“The former housemaid of the mansion has spilled everything. All the sinister plots and abuse you subjected Khalia to.”
Helena’s face remained expressionless, like a ceramic figure.
“I won’t stay quiet. I will expose your atrocities throughout the entire empire.”
“Who would believe such words?”
It was an unforgiving tone. In contrast to her parrot-like mimicry of the left one, Reedmore became increasingly agitated, speaking faster.
“We have witnesses. Not just the housemaid, but all the servants who worked at that time. We will find them, even if we have to search the entire country.”
“Poor souls, probably bought off.”
At the mention of buying off, the young heir of the disgraced duke exploded.
“Buying off! Do not insult my family!”
“Dear young master of House Desmiere.”
A smile finally appeared on Helena’s lips.
“May I dare to speak?”
Reedmore glared at her with a menacing gaze.
“I advise you to be careful with that mouth.”
“I’ll return your words just as they are.”
“What did you say?”
“Closing your eyes once might be forgiven, but not twice.”
The anger hidden behind her sinister smile burst forth.
“Your deceased mother was the nanny of that child, and such a third-rate novel won’t work more than once. Everyone watched in surprise as the incident unfolded so suddenly. Now you want to turn us into villains and swallow Estelle? Oh, that won’t happen. Young Master Reedmore.”
She sneered. Before Reedmore could respond, she continued without pause.
“We have a justification. A justification that no one can take away from us—the claim of being an irreplaceable family. We are connected to that child by blood, and someone needed to take care of the orphan. That’s our justification.”
Helena laughed loudly.
“Come to think of it, it was actually you who killed the child’s father. Isn’t it House Desmiere that started making that child miserable?”
“Don’t play around with absurd nonsense! The fact remains that you abused Khalia!”
“This is insane…”
Reedmore looked at Helena with astonishment. Her soft voice echoed gently.
“How insane that child’s father was. Even now, just hearing the name Count Estelle can cause an uproar and make children cry. If the daughter inherits her father’s temperament and exudes a sinister aura even at a young age, wouldn’t it be in a caregiver’s position to provide the necessary education?”
“You’re the devils. You were never human….”
He muttered in a daze.
“It might seem a bit rough, but considering how crazy that child’s father was. If you want to tarnish your reputation by claiming that the servants were bought, go ahead. Even if your reputation takes a hit, no one will react the way you want.”
A moan escaped Reedmore’s lips. Helena, on the other hand, raised the corners of her mouth.
“It’s not a problem for Barden to represent Estelle. No one will be wary of us.”
At once, her eyes gleamed.
Even to me, who had been watching what was happening here as if it were someone else’s business, like an empty shell, I could see what was contained within.
She quietly grasped a strand of her hair with the hand that had been neatly folded. The creases didn’t smooth out.
Incomprehensible anger resonated in her voice.
“A baseless, rustic Count from the countryside. A mere scarecrow for the high nobility to manipulate easily, indulging in luxury and tiptoeing around to be a puppet. I know how our family is perceived. What they expect from us.”
The blend of elegant smiles and deep-seated resentment created a strange expression.
Helena quickly regained her composure and smiled, squinting her eyes.
“If Desmiere represents Estelle, things will change. First, they drove away the benevolent guardian, and now they claim that they abused the successor? Redeeming Estelle’s honor, what will they do with the vast lands and wealth of the deeply rooted high nobility combined with the holdings of the Count? What kind of actions will they take?”
Anticipation sparkled in her eyes with the next question.
“Perhaps… You’re not entertaining any unthinkable thoughts, are you?”
“Shut your filthy mouth!”
Reedmore seemed as if he wanted to draw his sword at that very moment. The hand resting on the hilt trembled visibly.
Helena continued unabated.
“Khalia suddenly awakened her talents as a spirit. It’s an unprecedented event when we had her. Perhaps the Marquis trained her? To use the child as a weapon? If the Marquis comes from a family as venerable as you claim, there might be one or two books on spirit magic in his library.”
“That doesn’t exist! I never trained her!”
Despite shouting in a fit of rage, Reedmore only tilted his head slightly.
“If you insist so vehemently, who would dare to refute you? Being Desmiere, who has the power to bring down a family overnight and replace guardians, if you say so, everyone will keep their mouths shut. However, Young Lord, you can’t control people’s thoughts.”
She chuckled sinisterly. Her laugh was the opposite of the gentle and kind laughter that would have made Reedmore’s heart flutter as he watched from a distance.
“Creating a knife when thoughts accumulate. What if that blade is aimed at your family?”
“Even then, would you expose Khalia? Abandon your true father, your real family, the subjects and territories you should protect, all for one insignificant child?”
“…Desmiere’s family isn’t built on such a fragile foundation that it would crumble with baseless suspicions. Dare to speak of Barden’s succession like that.”
Helena shrugged her shoulders.
“Do as you please. I have nothing to lose even if you do as the Young Lord wishes.”
“You’re just bragging while saying that!”
“Would you like to test it?”
Reedmore hesitated for a moment. His lips and fists trembled ever so slightly.
Was he wavering?
However, his hesitation was brief. He spoke firmly.
“Remember, Young Lord.”
Helena cut him off and turned to me. With a sharp look, she glared at him and then fixed her gaze on me.
“The child is ours. There’s no thought of letting her be taken away.”
So, take good care of her and then return her.
That’s what Helena conveyed with a stern gaze.