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“But why do you keep speaking in honorifics to me?”
“That’s what I’m supposed to do. This is how the relationship between a Marquis and a Grand Duchess is supposed to be.”
Gerard replied in a firm tone.
“What? No, how can you say our relationship is merely a Grand Duchess and a Marquis?”
Leila argued in bewilderment. Then, she came to a conclusion.
“By any chance… Did Chloe make you do that?”
“It’s my will, no one told me to speak like this.”
Gerard cut off Leila coldly.
“Then, why are you doing this all of a sudden?”
“Tell me the truth. You’ve heard about the letter, too.”
Gerard sighed. Leila figured that he heard about the letter. Her childhood friend had a habit of sighing whenever he was troubled or didn’t want to talk about something.
“Then if it’s not like that, you have to tell her so that I can clear up the misunderstanding with Chloe! We didn’t write to each other with that kind of feeling.”
Gerard was exhausted from working overtime, but the throbbing in his head got worse when Leila spoke. He raised one of his hands and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“Gerard, didn’t you also want to help me patch things up with Chloe and that’s why you let me stay? If you just tell her that I didn’t mean that-”
“Grand Duchess of Anata.”
Leila became even more emotional and Gerard cut her off. He used an honorific, but not respectfully.
“Don’t call my name recklessly. From now on, you should address me as the Marquis of Blanchett.”
Leila asked Gerard, dumbfounded.
“And the reason I allowed the Grand Duchess to stay in the mansion was not because of any personal feelings.”
Gerard noticed tears welling up in Leila’s eyes. Unfortunately, the tears didn’t evoke much emotion from him.
“It’s only because I remembered that you welcomed my wife at the Anata estate when she suddenly decided to visit the North.”
“Therefore, there will be no next time. Blanchett has no debt to repay to Anata anymore.”
Gerard became very strict about boundaries. He would do them a favor only when he had debt to repay her and her family. It indicated that he would carry on with an official public and political relationship with Anata from now on.
“Then, I’ll take my leave now.”
He turned away from Leila, who couldn’t say anything and dropped her gaze. He didn’t expect himself to say this, but he had to say it for once and all.
However, Gerard stopped after a few steps. He hesitated for a moment and added.
“If you consider how the Grand Duke would feel… Please don’t make this a bigger fuss and return to him.”
Gerard obviously didn’t like Frederick. However, it wasn’t because of his feelings from the past. It’s just because their relationship, which had been going on for a long time, had become solid.
On the contrary, he expressed his gratitude to the Grand Duke for approving the unforeseen visit from Chloe. He even accepted the extreme amount of forces sent to escort his wife without hesitation. And also his generosity in sparing Abel, who had pushed Renesia.
So, instead of her, he was concerned by Grand Duke Anata’s babbling letter.
Leila stopped mid-sentence when she tried to call Gerard, who was walking away. She was sad to be unable to even call her friend’s name.
‘Where did everything go wrong?’
Tears welled up in Leila’s eyes again. Not only with Chloe, but her relationship with Gerard was faltering as well. It was frustrating and sorrowful at the same time.
“Your Grace… You should go back upstairs now. Your legs must be hurting.”
The maid, who was observing Leila by her side, tried to comfort her, but it was no use. She stood motionlessly for a while.
[E/N: honestly, I’m glad Gerard put Leila in her place. I feel like Leila was trying to use any lingering feelings Gerard had to push Chloe into having a close friendship with her again…]
It was finally the day of the hunting festival.
Hernia’s hunting festival consisted of two events. During the day, the hunting contest was held in the forest owned by the Imperial family, and a banquet was held at the Imperial Palace in the evening.
The royal knights in charge of the hunting competition were busy beginning early in the morning. They headed to the forest before the competition started to prepare for any possible danger.
“Sir, we’re ready to depart!”
Anton, the deputy commander leading the knights under his command, reported to Gerard.
“Yes, check the third and fourth zones carefully because there are cliffs around there.”
Even though the animals released on the hunting ground were just rabbits or deers, the expression of the Imperial Knights was rigid.
“Look carefully in case anyone is lurking around the cliffs.”
It wasn’t animals that they were wary of, but humans. During hunting contests, there were often assassination attempts or participants would try to kill their political opponents and say it was an accident.
Although it had been quiet lately, it happened frequently after Owen ascended the throne. Owen could enjoy the hunting festival from a safe spot, but he would probably participate in the hunting contest again this time.
The Emperor, who arrived at the hunting ground, was dressed in his hunting attire. Due to his participation, Gerard had no choice but to participate as well. His task would be following Owen around as his escort rather than joining the hunting contest himself.
After sending the knights into the woods, Gerard stopped by the Blanchett family’s tent before returning to the Emperor’s side.
Gerard returned home very late last night, and couldn’t see his wife because he had to go to work early in the morning. He wanted to see Chloe for a moment.
There was Chloe, her lady-in-waiting, and Leila in the Blanchett family’s tent. Leila insisted on staying there because she didn’t want to be alone in the Anata family’s tent.
“Are you busy?”
“No, I’m not. What is it?”
Chloe shook her head and walked up to Gerard. In fact, there was no reason for her to be busy.
“I wanted to see your face before I go.”
Gerard said with an affectionate smile.
Leila, who was watching them from the side, bit her lip. Gerard only offered her a slight bow and didn’t say anything. She felt invisible.
She felt ignored rather than jealous*. She was sad that her most precious friends only seemed to ostracize her, and she felt unfair because it seemed that there were no problems between them and just with her.
[*E/N: nah, she’s totally jealous xD]
“…Please be safe. I’m worried because the weather is not very good today.”
Chloe turned shyly. Her cheeks were red, which was in contrast with her eyes, which were looking up at the slightly dark sky. She looked lovely which made Gerard smile.
“Then, I will come back safely as you ask.”
Gerard kissed the back of Chloe’s hand before turning away. He didn’t even spare Leila a single glance until the end.
“I’ll look forward to your skills and bravery today.”
At the end of Owen’s words, the sound of trumpets filled the hunting ground. It marked the beginning of the hunting contest.
Most of the participants in the hunting contest consisted of men, but sometimes women could be seen among them. Their faces were flushed with anticipation and tension for the hunting contest.
“I’m going to catch more than you.”
“What kind of crazy bet shall we make?”
Participants would make lame bets and run into the forest with tumultuous laughs.
Leila felt very envious of the scene. She wanted to roam freely through the forest, but she had to sit patiently in the tent for now.
She felt frustrated. Her sorrow was creeping up again. She followed Chloe to the tea time held by the Empress, but her gaze kept averting to the woods.
And Karina wasn’t the kind of person who would miss an opportunity.
“Does Grand Duchess Anata find this activity boring?”
Karina’s sharp remark was turned toward Leila.
However, Leila wasn’t affected. Chloe, who was watching from beside her, gently grabbed Leila’s elbow before letting it go after a moment.
And Leila’s poor response soured the atmosphere at the table. Karina openly clicked her tongue as if she didn’t like her response.
“Oh, the teacup must be too light in your hand. This activity may be boring to you.”
It was how people in high society speak. Karina was being sarcastic, indicating that Leila was a knight who used to holding a sword.
Chloe, who was listening quietly by her side, opened her eyes wide in surprise. It was the first time that Karina has ever told her off publicly.
Karina obviously didn’t like Leila. However, it’s not like she hated Leila either. Contrary to her obvious show of hating Gerard, it was safe to say that she never made it obvious to Leila.
It wasn’t just due to the political relationship between the Empress and the Grand Duchess, but it was because she had considered Leila amazing for a long time for walking on a different path from others.
However, she didn’t see Leila in that way anymore after learning that she was the main culprit behind her sister’s suffering. She didn’t know exactly what happened between them, but she could tell who was at fault just by observing their behavior.
Moreover, she wondered about the reason Leila ran away from her residence in the North and visited the Blanchett residence. She was still super angry at the rumor about her sister and her husband because of Leila’s actions.
It was beyond thoughtless and disrespectful, and Karina was going to take this opportunity to give her a firm warning.
“Oh, come to think of it, I heard your ankle was injured, wasn’t it? I guess that’s why you couldn’t participate in the hunting contest. Was it severe?”
“No, it’s just sprained slightly, so it will improve soon.”
Leila replied with noticeable anxiousness. She was embarrassed because she never felt so intimidated by the Empress.
“I’m glad you’re not severely injured.”
However, to ease her nervous state, Karina put on a warm smile. The smile reassured Leila, but made Chloe nervous.
“However, just in case, don’t go anywhere while your ankle is injured. I’m worried that the same thing will happen again, or worse.”
It was a perfect warning. A warning to leave the Blanchett residence.
Everyone who was invited to the Empress’ tea time understood the meaning behind her words. Even Leila, who seemed tactless.
“…Yes, thank you for your concern.”
“Why are you saying thank you? Of course I’m concerned.”
And the words that followed dealt a fatal blow to Leila.
“Isn’t it time for you to think about your health? Your body is not the same as before, is it?”
After giving birth to her third child, Leila was sad at how different her body had become. The sharpness she had with her sword was gone, and her body felt heavy.
It was so painful that she couldn’t even hug her third child, Penelope, properly.
“Oh, by the way. I have tea leaves that I’ve received as a gift, and I think I should give it to you, Grand Duchess. I heard the tea leaves have an impeccable calming effect, so I think it will help the Grand Duke who has travelled all the way here.”
And Leila’s husband couldn’t understand her sorrow. Whether it was training or participating in a hunting contest, he wouldn’t allow her to do anything. She knew it was because he was worried about her, but it became frustrating.
“Yes, thank you…”
Leila answered slowly while dropping her head.
Chloe, who was staring at Leila, thought that she had to cut this conversation off.
She had been noticing the fact that Leila was acting weird since this morning. Leila, who would talk to her persistently, didn’t say anything more than necessary, and she didn’t try to have a friendly conversation when her husband came to the tent earlier.
She didn’t want to see the bright and cheerful Leila because she hated it, but the depressed Leila wasn’t good either. She became tired of seeing someone who was not pleasant to look at.
She thought that they had to clear up their relationship. However, she didn’t want to complete it by her sister’s public reprimand.
“Your Majesty the Empress.”
“It seems that the Grand Duchess isn’t feeling well and can’t concentrate on tea time. I think we have to take our leave now as we do not want to trouble your Majesty further.”
Karina clicked her tongue in disapproval and decided to back off.
“…As you wish, Marchioness.”
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