“….I’ve decided. I will…”
After a few minutes, Margaret spoke up. Margaret’s eyes, looking at us, had a strange glint for some reason.
“I will go with you both.”
Thus, Margaret legally became Theodore’s and my ward.
It was entirely up to Margaret to decide who she would follow after our divorce.
“The wind is getting chilly. It would be better to go inside quickly…”
Returning to Valentino castle and entrusting Margaret to Charlotte, I was taking a stroll in the garden for a while.
Then, I came across the aged pagoda tree. I stopped in my tracks and stared blankly. Theodore tried to talk to me in a restless manner.
His manner was as unfamiliar as a newborn, but I had never gotten used to it no matter how much I experienced it.
“…Before, you were crying when you looked at this tree.”
“Why were you like that?”
It wasn’t a curiosity that came out of nowhere. I had seen a vulnerability in him for the first time at that time, and I had been curious ever since. What story was hidden behind this tree?
As the cold wind blew stronger, Theodore came closer to me as if to shield me. After a while of silence, he wrinkled his forehead and opened his mouth.
“This tree was planted by my brother. …When I was young, my relationship with my brother wasn’t that good, but every summer, when the white flowers bloomed on this tree, we used to enjoy watching them together and laugh without any worries.”
…Come to think of it, pagoda tree flowers are white. I realized that I had never seen this tree bloom. Had it stopped blooming as it aged? Or had I just not noticed?
“…That’s why. Whenever I see this tree, it reminds me of my brother.”
Theodore blinked and averted his gaze. Sorrow was embedded in his blue eyes hidden under his long, black eyebrows.
A sadness that only he could fully understand, and something unknown to me as a complete stranger.
“…This is the first time I’ve heard such a personal story from you.”
“Come to think of it… Yes, that’s true.”
Theodore wasn’t one to talk in detail about his childhood. It was not just to me, but also other people, so I could deduce that it was part of his character.
“…I think this is the first time I’ve heard a story about your childhood too.”
For a moment, I didn’t understand his words, then I quickly realized.
Come to think of it, I haven’t told him in detail about my childhood either. About the young Lily Everett.
“…Come to think of it, from your perspective, you were the victim of a fraudulent marriage. I am not even Duke Everett’s child, but an adopted daughter.”
I was the illegitimate child of a servant girl, whose father was unknown. I was the so-called rootless child, completely mismatched with the noble Valentino lineage.
‘Indeed, it’s really a mismatch…’
Valentino was an ancient lineage that had been passed down since the mythological era. Their history was much older than that of the royal family Lancius and Everett.
During the ancient mythological era, the flow of spirit power in the world was denser than it is now, and the spirit contractors were almost like gods. People worshiped them as deities, and the most renowned among them was the ancestor of Valentino, who was a hero held in the highest regard.
He was a noble figure who established a kingdom with his own power but chose to protect people rather than ascend the throne. He founded the Valentino lineage for that purpose.
He was a descendant of such a great lineage. Theodore Valentino.
Well, it was natural that Missus Seymour considered me unworthy.
“I don’t think……. It was fraudulent.”
“You don’t need you to match your feelings to mine. …It’s the truth. I wasn’t a suitable match for you.”
“Suitable or not, that’s for me to decide.”
Theodore’s gaze as he looked directly at me was serious. It doesn’t contain a single since…. The gaze was sincere that they are terrifying.
“What I thought after hearing your story wasn’t about that.”
“….Then what thoughts did you have? Did you pity me?”
Instead of answering, Theodore remained silent and gently clasped my hand. Despite the cold weather, his hand remained warm. In that warmth, I felt like I might start crying again.
“…I regretted it.”
“Why didn’t I try to understand you a little earlier… and…”
“My heart aches at the fact that you suffered so much.”
Wetness gathered at the corners of his eyes, as if he had been holding back tears all this time.
Theodore, gripping my hand tightly, bowed his head. It was as if he couldn’t bear the weight of his regret that rested on his shoulders.
“No matter how hard I try, there may be no way for me to atone for what I’ve done to you…”
“So, even more so, I will do my best to atone.”
“I will dedicate everything I have to help you. For your revenge, and for your future happiness.”
Even if his attempt at atonement was like trying to fill a bottomless pit, he resolved to do so with a determined look in his eyes.
The sadness embedded in his blue eyes in that moment didn’t feel unfamiliar.
* * *
“How did you manage to make Lily so useless? I didn’t expect that child to become worthless so quickly.”
Kazef Everett clicked his tongue and took a seat. Owen, who had been standing like a painting, smiled quietly. His demeanor showed no emotional turmoil whatsoever, making him look like a lifeless statue.
“At this point, that woman couldn’t even be in the marriage business anymore. Did Duke Valentino truly intend to divorce that child? When Lily returns to Everett Castle, you can handle that woman’s disposal as you see fit. Whether you spare her or kill her, it’s up to you.”
As he spoke, the smile on Owen’s lips deepened slightly. His eyes sparkled for a moment, but Duke Everett didn’t seem to notice.