As expected, Leonie frowned and asked in return.
“What’s this new strategy then?”
“It’s not any kind of tactic.”
I cleared my throat.
“It’s just a realization. I’ve been blindly following you. You look so good and brilliant that I envy you.”
This was the first time in my life I’ve so candidly said, ‘I envy you.’ In the meanwhile, as if she noticed my serious tone, Leonie’s expression softened a bit as she listened quietly.
“You’re pretty, not stunningly so, but yes, pretty. Smart too… Though your personality could use some work.”
“Hey, are you one to talk?”
Leonie retorted lightly but didn’t interrupt me, so I kept going in a serious manner.
“But then, one day, I had this thought.”
It was actually a realization I had just after returning.
“Maybe just being alive is a blessing? And if so, shouldn’t I enjoy this blessing a bit more?”
“Now, can’t I just cheer for you while I seek out what I want to do, and live for my own happiness?”
I added playfully.
“See, that’s why even if you came to annoy me today, I didn’t get upset.”
She didn’t deny coming to annoy me. Well, she did manage to do so, after all. Having finally said what I wanted, I scooped up a spoonful of brownie topped with ice cream and took a bite.
I spat it out instantly. Leonie, sitting across from me, was shocked.
“What’s wrong with you?! Are you pregnant?”
“Of course not!”
I couldn’t help but shout back.
The brownie tasted sour and salty as if someone had deliberately poured in vinegar and salt. Leonie seemed fine, so it must have been just mine. Across the dining table, the maid opposite me sneered for a moment before composing her face.
‘Aha, so that’s it.’
I recalled that around this time, the servants of the Marquisate were divided into two factions. The 〈 Lion Faction 〉 supported Leonie as the future empress, and the 〈 Lyra Faction 〉, which supported me.
The chief maid was the head of the Lion Faction, and the butler, while relatively neutral, tended to side with me.
This division among the servants began when Leonie and I were both candidates for the crown princess, but the situation changed dramatically when the crown prince fell for Leonie at first sight because Father’s favoritism started leaning blatantly towards her.
As Father’s discrimination against me intensified, so did the subtle torment from the Lion Faction servants.
‘And the chef who made the dessert was probably from the Lion Faction.’
Summoning the chef to scold for this misdeed wouldn’t be difficult. Still, such an act would only end up being dismissed as a ‘mistake’ by a servant. The idea that a servant would deliberately spite the Miss of the house is preposterous. Acknowledging it would be the same as admitting that I hold no authority whatsoever.
A miss of the house personally reprimanding a servant for their mistake?
While plausible, it wasn’t the right move, especially when I was constantly being compared to my younger sister. If the butler was around, he might have noticed and taken some action on my behalf. However, he was away carrying out Father’s orders, and all the nearby servants were loyal to Leonie.
In the end, I eventually put down my spoon, barely touching the dessert.
Leonie, too, seemed hardly interested in her dessert. It seemed that she was pondering over what I had said.
* * *
As Leonie was about to leave the house, I did something I had never done before in my life. I personally saw her off to the palace, escorting her all the way to her carriage from the entrance of our estate!
My annoying younger sister, giving a ‘Have you lost your mind?’ glance, stood by the carriage, being sent off by the butler and other servants. Father, of course, didn’t bother to come out.
Just before boarding the carriage, she turned back.
Now that Father’s not around, she casually called me by my name.
Well, she always did.
But today, I could forgive anything. It was the day of my return, a day of miracles for me, and I had no desire to repeat my previous life.
As I asked, Leonie hesitantly replied,
“You’re pretty, too. Not stunningly so, but yes, pretty.”
Then, she abruptly threw something like a small box at me. Oh. As I was surprised, the carriage door closed, and it drove away.
* * *
‘My sister’s really weird.’
Back in my room, I lay on my bed. Like the first time I rode a horse, I felt utterly drained in every muscle of my body. Apparently, I was more tense than I realized. I didn’t expect to see Leonie and the Marquis so soon after returning.
I fumbled for the box placed on the nightstand. It was a long rectangular box covered in velvet. Lying down, I opened the box.
Inside was a necklace.
A silver chain necklace with a large aquamarine. The jewel shone bright sky-blue like my eyes. It was quite pretty.
‘Huh? This is…’
Even before I returned, I had received this necklace as a birthday gift. It was one among many customary gifts exchanged between noble families. So, back then, I never wore it. Who knew what scandal could arise from wearing a gift when the sender was unknown?
‘Though was it Leonie who sent the gift?’
It seemed odd that she’d come all this way to annoy me and then bring a gift. Worried it might be poisoned, I checked it with a poison detection reagent, but there was no reaction.
The next moment, something soft suddenly brushed against my foot.
I sat up, calling out loud.
Popo was my pet white fox. With adorably fluffy fur and black eyes! It was so affectionate, rubbing its face against my ankle and now begging to be held with its front paws up. As I picked it up and held it close to my arm, I let Popo happily show its cuteness.
Goodness, how could I forget Popo? Especially since around this time, Popo was practically my reason for living.
As Bessie entered the room, she watched Popo with wide eyes before speaking up.
“Perhaps because it was a gift from Young Master Arnold, Popo seems to really follow you, Miss.”
My fiancé, the second son of a Duchy, it was a purely political engagement. Arnold wasn’t exactly the ideal fiancé, but he seemed to take care of appearances. Though he never congratulated me in person, he always sent birthday gifts every year.
One of them was Popo, this fox.
‘And Popo was…’
Yes, Popo died a few years later, poisoned after licking my tea. The physician said it was a poison fatal to animals but accumulated slowly and invisibly in humans and eventually destroyed the body. Of course, it was one of Leonie’s schemes.
The day I lost Popo, I cried more than when my fiancé died.
…But now, it was alive and well by my side.
I stroked Popo’s face and muttered.
“How can you be so gentle?”
“Oh, what are you saying, Miss?! As if to prove it’s a fox, it only wags its tail like this in front of you. When you’re not around, and we try to feed it, it’s like a war. A war.”
As I laughed off her exaggeration, something tapped at the window.
It was a pure white dove. And for a moment, I held my breath. That was… the kind sent by the assassination guild I frequently used.
A bad premonition hit me.
When Bessie opened the window, the white dove flew straight to me and tied to its leg was a small note.
Decoded, the message read…
[ [Lion] Location confirmed, elimination imminent. ]
D*mn it. I jumped up from my seat.
Around this time, I had placed a request with the assassins to eliminate Leonie as she left the palace. And now, she was on her way back to the palace, blissfully unaware!
Unaware of my turmoil, Bessie clapped her hands excitedly beside me.
“Miss, you’re truly remarkable! I heard everything outside the dining room. Such incredible acting! Were you lulling Miss Leonie into a false sense of security before striking from behind?”
“It’s not like that!”
There was no time to explain, so I called out loudly for the head of the assassination guild I had hired.
It was a long shot, but as expected, there was no answer. Bambi wouldn’t be by my side right now, probably off carrying out my past self’s orders to kill my sister.
‘The timing of this return is just terrible…!’
How could I possibly remember every single assassination order I made in the past right after returning?!
No, this couldn’t happen. If things proceed this way, I would just be a liar to Leonie. I couldn’t allow all my confessions of genuine feelings for my annoying sister, or the first time ever—including before the return—to be dismissed as mere parts of a scheme!
“Miss, where are you going?”
“To ride a horse!”
Bessie shouted behind me as I was leaving the room.
“Yes? But Miss, you can’t ride a horse!”
True. My twenty-one-year-old self couldn’t ride, but Sophia of the future learned how!
The carriage wasn’t that fast, so if I rode at full speed, I might catch up.
Bambi, the head of the assassination guild, knows my face. If I got there, somehow, I’d manage to convey my intentions!
I couldn’t waste a single second and dashed towards the stables. Since it was late in the evening, no stable boy or other servants were around. I stormed into the stable and grabbed one of the horses I saw.
A horse that was lying down and resting stood up, neighing in protest.
“I’m sorry, Thunderoot. This is urgent.”
I calmed the horse and mounted it. I wasn’t even sure if its name was really Thunderoot.
As Thunderoot stood up and stretched its legs, I realized something important.
I was in a white chemise, practically my pajamas. Thankfully, it wasn’t the see-through kind, but I had to firmly grip the horse with my thighs, forcing me to hitch up the hem of my skirt and flip it over my back. My indoor slippers dangled from my toes, and my bare legs were fully exposed.
‘Anyone who sees me now might think I’ve gone mad!’
Regardless, there was nothing to fear for someone who had traveled back in time.
I lightly kicked the horse’s sides with my heels.
“Thunderoot, let’s go!”