* * *
Dooha raised an eyebrow when she saw that Pauline’s gift was floating on the water.
“It’s a boat used for boating.”
The gift that she had prepared was five small boats that were luxuriously decorated.
The white boat, which could only take two passengers each, was perfect for boating as an awning was placed right in the middle of the boat.
“Goodness, what a wonderful gift.”
“As expected, Young Lady Blair has a good eye.”
“I’d also forgotten that there’s an artificial lake within the grounds of the Ducal castle.”
The vassal’s wives were amazed at the gift that Young Lady Blair had prepared.
“How enviable. It’s hard to see a pond in our castles, let alone a lake.”
“That’s the Esbadens for you. It’s probably hard to see a lake of this size, even in the Imperial Palace.”
“The Ducal family is different as expected.”
Only Dooha had a look of discomfort on her face amongst the ladies that made a fuss out of excitement.
“Do you not like it?”
She forced a smile at Pauline’s question.
“No, I like it. Thank you, Pauline.”
“Not at all. It’s a little something for the wedding present of an old friend.”
An old friend?
As Dooha’s brows were slightly furrowed.
“Erm, Duchess, the weather is nice today, so what do you think of going boating together on a day like this?”
At a lady’s diffident suggestion, the other wives clapped their hands.
“Oh, I also thought it would be nice if we could do that.”
“Duchess, you’ll give us permission, right?”
“Of course she’ll permit it. Our Duchess isn’t a covetous person that hogs such gifts to herself.”
In the first place, it was impossible to overcome their stubbornly badgering ways.
Actually, Dooha had prepared something else for the outing’s entertainment, but boating might be more suitable on a sunny day like today.
“Alright, if that’s what you ladies want.”
* * *
“Are you in poor health?”
Dooha asked concernedly when she saw Pauline placing a small pill into her mouth.
At her question, Pauline paused for a moment before smiling weakly.
“No, it’s just something like a nutritional supplement that I’d usually take.”
“That’s a relief.”
Dooha gave a radiant smile to Pauline, who was seated across from her.
They boarded in pairs as each boat could only take two passengers, and coincidentally, Dooha was partnered with Pauline.
Originally, the highest-ranking lady amongst them, Countess Jive, would have boarded on the same boat as Dooha, but the situation did not turn out as expected.
As the boats rocked along with the ripples on the surface of the lake, small noises were transmitted regularly.
Dooha stared at Pauline, who was seated directly opposite of her and looking into the distance.
Unlike the atmosphere that was still sharp, the figure of the woman sitting before her was both very beautiful and sorrowful that she couldn’t help but feel sad for some reason.
The thin silk on the awning fluttered along with the breeze over their heads.
“It’s quite strange.”
What’s the thing that’s strange?
Instead of answering, Dooha looked at Pauline quietly.
“I should be sincerely congratulating my old friend on welcoming the spouse he will spend the rest of his life with, but there’s a knot in my stomach.”
“…Is the old friend that Pauline speaks of the Duke?”
“I’ve known the Duke for fifteen years.”
Pauline recited with a face filled with regret.
“Ever since he was very young, he has been an extraordinary person. He was someone righteous and strong.”
Due to their parents’ acquaintance, she had known him ever since they were very young.
She and the Duke of Esbaden.
“When I was young, I was bullied by other young ladies for being reticent. At that time, the Duke was the one that saved me.”
It was probably from then onwards.
Pauline held him deep within her heart.
“Even though the situation he was in must have been difficult.”
Despite the shackles of his mother’s lowborn status, Leonhart followed the previous duke’s harsh education and stood out in every way.
Just like he was proving himself to those that scorned him.
“I know everything about the Duke. From the aspects that others know of, to the parts that others are in the dark about.”
Pauline prided herself on the fact that none other observed the duke as closely and for as long a time as she did.
She was convinced that she’s the only woman in the world that could understand him.
Pauline looked at the Duchess that’s seated upright before her and continued.
“And throughout my life, I thought that marriage was something that I had to do with someone like that.”
While he’s a duke that hated it when women threw themselves on him, as long as he’s seated in the position of Duke, he’ll have to get married one day.
And Pauline had no doubt that if the duke were to marry one day, his counterpart would be her.
That was, until Dooha’s arrival.
“…I envy the Duchess. You managed to obtain him easily, even though you didn’t even try.”
Dooha frowned at her aggrieved voice.
In fact, she couldn’t understand why she had to listen to such words from Pauline.
It was really shocking that blaming others was the right thing to do.
It was annoying enough that she suddenly showed off her friendship with the duke, but it’s all because of her that Pauline was unable to form marital ties with the duke?
Of course, it’s true that she obtained the duke without even trying.
‘In the first place, it’s not like I gained him because I wanted to.’
On top of that, the duke was never in her hands.
No, Dooha had never gained anything easily in her life.
“You’ve known him for fifteen years, but it seems that you don’t know how picky the Duke is, Pauline.”
Dooha continued in a cold voice.
“Do you think that I’m sitting in the position of Duchess effortlessly?”
“In that case, how much does the Duchess know about the Duke?”
Dooha answered her question unhesitatingly.
“When he smiles, the left corner of his mouth will curl upwards a little more.”
“He has a drinking habit that I can’t talk about, and he doesn’t like it when others touch his things.”
Other than that, she knew quite a bit about Leonhart.
That when he sleeps, he’ll always sleep on his side.
That he has a higher body temperature than others.
That as such, he’ll take off half of his clothes when he sleeps.
That he also values his obligations and dignity as a duke.
And that he cares about his people more than he realised.
“Considering this , I think that I know everything I should about the Duke.”
Pauline’s expression wasn’t so good.
With every word that Dooha said, her shoulders would tremble and she would bite strongly on her lips.
Her wide-opened eyes were filled with anger and an unknown emotion.
At that time, Dooha didn’t know that the unknown emotion was called ‘jealousy’.
“Was my answer satisfactory?”
“…Truth is, all of that doesn’t matter at all.”
“Then what matters the most?”
“Did you know that the Duke lost his parents when he was young?”
“Then do you know what was the reason behind his loss?”
She knew nothing about how the previous duke and duchess died.
Daniel seems to have briefly said that he lost them due to an accident.
She didn’t know what that accident was and how it happened.
“I know about it. How the Duke went through such a tragedy and how he endured through that hell.”
Pauline’s voice was filled with grim determination.
“I don’t want to see such a duke becoming unhappy due to his forced marriage. As such, please yield on your own, Duchess.”
“…Are you telling me to divorce him right now? Do you know what that means?”
“I’m also aware of how important the alliance with Bashal is.”
Pauline continued with a nonchalant look.
“In the first place, I heard that your marriage should have been with the Fourth Prince. As such, it wouldn’t be difficult to find a marriage candidate for the alliance.”
Does that woman actually know what she’s talking about?
She wouldn’t say something like that if she’d roughly heard about what happened between her and the Fourth Prince.
No, is she asking when she already knew?
Dooha gritted her teeth while trying to hold back her strength that entered her hands without her realisation.
“So what you’re saying is that you want me to divorce the Duke and remarry the Fourth Prince?”
“For the princess of a country, the position of Crown Princess would be more appropriate than the position of Duchess.”
With a gracious look like she was saying this for Dooha’s sake, Pauline continued.
“None will object to a divorce as long as the alliance is kept. I don’t think it’s a losing transaction.”
Yes, marriage was a transaction.
Dooha was also someone that came here in exchange for the transaction between two countries.
As such, she didn’t have a proper basis to refute Pauline’s words.
Dooha bit her lower lip and stared at Pauline.
“…What if I don’t want a divorce?”
At her expression of rejection, Pauline’s eyes widened slightly and soon after, darkened silently.
“Then there’s nothing else that I can do.”
As she muttered in a chilling voice that was devoid of emotion, she pulled out the corkscrew that was at her ankle.
Water instantly gushed up from the hole that the stopper was blocking.
Instantly, water began to fill the bottom of the boat.
The boat began to totter as the startled Dooha jumped out of her seat.
After she lost her balance and sank back into her seat, Pauline spoke calmly.
“Let’s die together here.”
Pauline didn’t have the confidence to watch the woman that possessed the man she couldn’t have and enjoying herself by his side.
The mere thought of it made her want to die.
“Pauline! Are you crazy—?”
Dooha hurriedly looked around and tried to ask for help, but that couldn’t be achieved.
Perhaps because the lake was too wide, the boats that the other wives were riding on were a distance away.
They didn’t even seem to know there was something wrong with this boat.
“Pauline, put the stopper back on right now! What are you doing?”
“It’s too late for that. I’ve already lost the stopper.”
Pauline smiled wanly at the knee-deep water level.
“If I’m unlucky, I’ll be the only one that dies.”
For the first time, colour drained from Dooha’s face.
This woman is crazy.
There was no way a sane person could win against a madman.
The small boat with two people on board quickly sank to the bottom of the lake with a loud noise.
* * *
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