Marielle Clarac’s Engagement – The Love Story of Marielle Clarac – Chapter 06

“Mysterious Thief Arrested at Last!”
“Vice Captain’s Glorious Achievement: Lutin’s Plans Foiled!” “Lutin Dug Own Grave with Over-the-Top Performance!” “Fans in an Uproar! Ladies Lament Their Loss!”
From tabloid to broadsheet, the front page of every paper was occupied by the same story. The news spread through the city of Sans-Terre in the space of that one night, and was now making its way across all of Lagrange. On every street corner and in front of every theater, newspaper boys bellowed the headlines, day after day.
The circus tent in the park disappeared, incidentally. When the police went to conduct a raid, it had already vanished without a trace. Every performer and animal was gone, and no one knew where. A smooth getaway.
In the end, the only ones arrested were Lutin himself—the mastermind of the operation—and his accomplice, the strongman. Still, though one might say “only” two were arrested, just one of them was needed to fulfill the police’s dearest wish, so Commissioner Doumergue seemed fully satisfied. He didn’t care about catching any silly little underlings.
The party, of course, was halted as soon as the truth came to light, and the earl and countess underwent a great deal of shock. Given their advanced years, this caused some concern, but they did manage to recover as time passed. However, the earl lost a great deal of his vitality, and was no longer able to assault his relatives and servants with such vicious words of admonishment. This sparked mixed feelings in me: was it something to be glad about, or was it rather an unnerving thing for his fire to be so diminished?
The one who took over management of the manor’s daily affairs was, in fact, Lady Monique. Following the incident, she did a surprisingly thorough job of bringing the servants back in order and taking on the leadership mantle from the earl and countess. In the end, it seems she was not a feeble widow, unable to stand her ground and exert her will in the face of her oppressive in-laws.
Of course, Lord Simeon attracted quite some censure from the Pautrier family. They were not pleased that he’d let them go ahead with the party, revealing nothing of what he knew. However, he coolly explained to them exactly what he’d told me. It had taken time to find out for certain, and if they wanted to catch Lutin off guard and truly take him down, there was no other way but to let him carry out his plan. Even the police commissioner and His Highness were accepting of this, so House Pautrier could do nothing but quietly back down as well.
Lord Patrice was—thank goodness—disinherited at last. Even if Lutin had taken advantage of him, it was indeed true that he was planning to carry out his own theft as well. I dutifully fulfilled my promise to Mr. Danton that I would tell his father, so Baron Bernier apparently chided him rather harshly, as did his older brother. Finally, he was pushed out, forced to leave
his family behind.
According to the rumor mill, he joined the army after that. Given the status (or lack thereof) that he was left with, though, I seriously doubt he could have become an officer. And if he, a young gentleman with a penchant for gambling and women, were to be mixed in with the roughest, coarsest, lowest-ranked soldiers… All I could do was wish him luck from afar.
And don’t worry about Eugenie. She found the favor of a young banker, so she cried no tears over this loss.

I walked through the park, along paths lined by trees that had by now lost almost every one of their leaves. I decided to buy an ice cream from a nearby stand. It was a decidedly frosty food choice for such a chilly time of year, but it was one of the things Sans-Terre was famous for in winter.
If it got a tiny bit colder, it would be possible to go ice skating. I wondered if Lord Simeon would accompany me.
I sat down on an empty bench and ate my ice cream, thinking to myself that no matter what dramatic events occurred, the world and its people seemed to have the same air to them as always. Young couples made their way past me, and children were playing all around me with excitement. I even spotted some grandchildren walking with their grandparents.
I recalled my first sight of the real Lord Cedric, when he subsequently visited House Pautrier at last. Unlike the Lord Cedric I’d known, he came across entirely like an ordinary young commoner.
It struck me that Lutin’s transformational artistry really was impressive. The hairstyle, even the facial features, were exactly right. Looking at the real Lord Cedric, his charming, clean-cut appearance was almost eerily familiar. But the facial expression that appeared on them, and his entire bearing, were completely different.
Apparently, he had indeed refused to rejoin the family all along…but the reason was somewhat different than the one I’d heard.
“My father already refused outright ten years ago,” the real Lord Cedric explained to his grandparents. “You told him that if he left my mother, his disinheritance would be rescinded, and I would be acknowledged as the heir. But who would ever agree to that? When my father left this family, he threw away his social position and any claim to the fortune, and he never wanted either of them back. And I don’t want them either. I’m happy with my life the way it is. As long as I work hard, I never go hungry. Besides, I’m not a child. Just because my parents have died doesn’t mean I need someone else to take care of me. Anyway, the only reason you asked me is because you need a successor, isn’t that right? Stop forcing your problems onto me. It’s not doing me any favors.”
On that day, when he met his grandparents for the first time, the eyes he turned on them were full of nothing but simmering rage. All attempts to change his mind fell on deaf ears. He planned to simply say what he had to say, then go back to Linden.
The only thing that stopped him in his tracks was catching sight of Lady Monique. “Are you…my aunt?” he asked. “The wife of my dad’s older brother?”
“Yes,” replied Lady Monique with a nod.
Lord Cedric took something out of his pocket and handed it to her. “This belongs to you, I believe.”
Lady Monique’s eyes grew as wide as saucers as he presented her with the small ring box. I’d had the chance to see it at close range as well, as I recalled. She opened it, and indeed, the emerald ring was inside.
The actual target of Lutin’s burglary, which he’d stolen in the fracas, was the Shilin incense burner. However, separately from that, he also had the ring, as Countess Simone had gifted it to him. After his arrest, this was returned to the family, and the butler had confirmed that nothing else was missing. I wondered how the ring had ended up in the real Lord Cedric’s possession. Presumably this, too, was according to Countess Simone’s wishes.
“I asked what significance this has, and it was clear that I’m not the one who should have it. You are.”
She stood there, lost for words. I knew she was wavering over whether or not to accept it.
Calmly, with no hint of annoyance in his voice, he said, “It’s something my uncle gave to you, so you are its owner now. You can decide whether to give it to someone else, or to take it with you to the grave. The choice is yours, and if anyone suggests otherwise, you should tell them where they can go.”
Tears welled in Lady Monique’s eyes, then began to stream down her face. She took the ring and held it close like it meant all the world to her.
It was evidently a dearly treasured memento of her late husband. If she’d been told she had to give it up, it was no wonder she’d had such a dark cloud over her this whole time.
Lord Cedric began to take his leave, but Lady Monique called to him. “Wait a moment, please. I won’t try to convince you to become the heir, I promise. I also won’t tell you to forgive my father-in-law…your grandfather, I mean, or his wife. However, you are their kin, connected to them by blood. Please, don’t deny them that at least. I know that your grandmother, in
particular, has always wondered about her grandson. She never stopped thinking about you, no matter how distant you were. They didn’t want to welcome you back to the family purely for their own benefit. At least believe that.”
Silently, Lord Cedric turned his gaze from Lady Monique to Countess Simone. He looked at her without speaking a word…and ultimately, she looked away without saying anything either.
But before leaving, he said, “I’m not a noble, but I am your grandson. I could write you letters, if you’ll accept them from a mere commoner. However, I have a job and a fiancée in Linden, so I can’t come here to live.” He paused. “When I get married, shall the two of us travel here? I could introduce you to her. I have to mention, she was born and raised a commoner. She’s a seamstress.”
“Yes,” said Lady Monique. “We’d be glad to meet her. Allow us to offer the two of you our blessing, as well. And…thank you.”
With a brief nod, Lord Cedric left. Countess Simone broke down into tears, and Lady Monique gently patted her on the back.
It was clear that the problem of House Pautrier’s succession would continue to be a source of conflict. Seeing all the greedy fighting relatives, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Countess Simone, Earl Pautrier, and Lady Monique. This would no doubt be a cause of great anxiety for some time to come.
However, my part in all this was over. Praying from the bottom of my heart that they’d reach a happy conclusion—and aware that His Highness was giving them his attention as well—I left the people of House Pautrier behind.
All sorts of memories washed over me as I sat on that bench eating my ice cream. But, even after I’d finished it, the person I was waiting for had still not arrived.
Just as I was wondering how I would fill the time, I noticed a figure coming toward me. Even at a distance I could see it was a man, so for a moment I thought my wait was over, and I began brimming with anticipation.
However, it was not the person I expected. Instead, it was a young man with a cheerful expression on his face, well dressed but seemingly not a nobleman.
His short black hair seemed to flick upward at the ends in a rather carefree fashion. His tanned skin also strengthened the jolly impression he made. When he stopped in front of me, the face that beamed down at me was strikingly handsome in a way that made him seem very likable.
Why has this man come up to me? I wondered. He’s a stranger, isn’t he? I don’t recall ever seeing him before.
However, when I stared into his blue eyes, I had the feeling that I might have seen him somewhere after all…

“Is it safe for a young lady to go out walking on her own like this? Some evildoer might try to kidnap you.” The teasing voice sounded very familiar, even as it came from a completely unknown face.
“I’m waiting for someone,” I replied. “My fiancé should be here soon.”
“Then I suppose I’ll have to kidnap you before he gets here,” he said in a singsong voice. I furrowed my brow. I am so sure that I know this man. I feel like I met him very recently. I definitely remember someone who talks like that.
He grinned at me, waiting eagerly for my memories to click into place. He seemed only slightly younger than Lord Simeon, but despite being a fully fledged adult, he had a mischievous quality about him, a childlike air, as if he enjoyed playing pranks.
Wait a moment, I thought. Pranks? “Aren’t you…?”
“So you finally remembered,” he said cheerfully, reaching his hand out to me. Flustered, I brushed his hand away. “How!? You were arrested!”
“Hmm, yes, I suppose I was. With an opponent like that terrifying knight, I was at too much of a disadvantage, and I was surrounded to boot. I could have tried to put up a struggle, but it would have been no use, so I accepted the inevitable and let myself be taken away like a good little boy. However, I don’t recall promising that I’d continue to go along with it. I’m sure there’s no shortage of people who’d like me to feel the hangman’s noose, and I had no desire to sit around waiting for my trial. I parted ways with the police at my earliest convenience.”
In other words, he broke out of jail. My mouth fell open, and I found myself unable to close it. Who should I be more shocked by? I wondered. The idiotic police who let Lutin escape right after they finally caught him, or Lutin himself, who shows absolutely no sign of remorse whatsoever?
The only thing I was sure of was that Lord Simeon’s efforts had all gone to waste. “Is that a glower I see on your face?” asked Lutin. “That’s rather unexpected.”
“Do you need something from me? After going to all that trouble to escape, I’d suggest you get a move on.”
“Have you forgotten? I said I would take you with me.” He spoke in a manner that felt entirely too intimate. “When I told you that, it was an expression of my true feelings. I’ve been intrigued by you ever since we met that day in the circus tent. I’ve seen your eyes sparkle with an innocent curiosity, and I’ve seen you act with bravery totally unlike that of any other noblewoman. Some of the things you did were far outside of anything I’d predicted. You even disguised yourself as a maid and blended in amongst the servants, didn’t you? That was very interesting indeed!”
So he’d been aware of my activities all along? And had laughed his secretive little chuckle? It didn’t bear thinking about!

My hackles were raised more and more as his speech went on. Thinking back, even our dance practice had been one of his schemes. Not to mention the time he’d told me about his memories of his late father! I thought, how dare he tell me such utter poppycock in such an earnest manner! What a piece of work. I couldn’t believe I had sympathized with him, even supported him!
He continued, “At first glance you appear plain and docile, as if there’s nothing interesting about you at all…but in truth, you have an offbeat way of thinking and behaving. One that makes you too interesting for words. You’re keenly aware of the distinction between your two personas, aren’t you? You know exactly when to use one and when the other. I love that about you. You have that same whiff about you that I do. I’m not in possession of the emerald ring anymore, but I will get you anything you want, whether that’s rubies, or diamonds…anything. So please, Marielle. Come with me.”
“Have you forgotten?” I replied. “I already told you, it’s not jewels that I like, but flowers. And I already have one person to give me those, so I don’t need another. Besides, I doubt there’s a lady alive who’d be happy to receive stolen goods as a gift. To you and your kind, all I can say is: leave and don’t come back.”
He raised his voice in a laugh, as if he truly found this all very entertaining. “You’re an impressive person indeed. It seems such a waste for you to remain within the nobility.”
Speak for yourself, I thought. Personally, becoming a thief’s mistress would be far more of a waste.
He continued, “Surely you can’t live the life you want to. Not in a society that’s so focused on putting on airs and inescapable ties of obligation. Such a dull and restrictive world must be far too cramped for you.”
“I don’t need any of your concern, thank you. I’m glad to tell you that I don’t see it that way at all.”
“Don’t you? Oh, it would be ideal if everyone were as kind and compassionate as you, but in the world of the nobility, all the beauty you see is only skin deep. Beneath the surface, high society is so wretched that even a criminal would turn away in disgust. Just look at House Pautrier. Every last one of them has as much wealth and status as they could ever need, but they’re still jealous of whoever has more. Their eyes glint with jealousy as they look for their chance to pounce and take it all. People like that are everywhere—let your guard down for even a moment, and they’ll pull the rug from under you without a second thought.”
I silently listened to Lutin’s words, remaining seated but wondering if I was safe there. Does he really intend to kidnap me? If so, should I try to run? Or perhaps if I cry out loudly enough, people nearby would call the police? But then he’d surely drag me away before they arrived…
It was potentially a very dangerous situation indeed…but on balance, I didn’t especially feel that I was at risk. I didn’t sense that Lutin wanted to force me to go with him against my will.
As if to assure me of that, he proceeded with his attempt to convince me. “Everywhere you look, people are taking advantage of each other,” he said, “using them as fodder, stepping on them to boost themselves higher. Even the most beautiful women hide behind their fans and spit out hateful words. Behind every smile is nothing but pure contempt. Even your fiancé. From his face, he would appear to be a man of integrity, but he actually has some rather murky hidden depths, doesn’t he? The kind young man he appears to be could never be so formidable. I’m sure he has plenty of other faces as well—sides of himself that he doesn’t show you. You must have your own suspicions, I’m sure. He seemed to be getting awfully comfortable with the Le Comte sisters, for example. And the look he gave me at the end. Those were the eyes of a professional killer.”
I offered no response.
“If you stepped out into the wider world, you could live a far more enjoyable life. I know that in your heart of hearts, you are yearning to be set free…to let your curiosity run wild, to act however you please. Wherever you want to go, whatever you want to do, I will make it a reality. I will show you a whole world full of things you’ve never seen before. You’d never be bored, from now until the day you die. I can give you a life that no one else could possibly give you. A life filled with fun and magic. Come with me, Marielle. I promise I’ll never give you any reason to regret the choice.”
He offered his large hand to me. His hand hung in the air, right before my eyes. I stared at it for a moment, and then smiled. “So what if he’s full of the murkiest hidden depths in all the world? Am I supposed to be bothered by that?” Lutin blinked.
I clenched my fist and exclaimed, “You’ve summed up Lord Simeon perfectly! He is a most formidable man indeed. He’s a brutal, black-hearted military officer who never lets his guard down. He’s a full-course meal of everything I adore! How could I be anything less than fully satisfied with my life!?”
“…What?” In an involuntary motion, Lutin pulled his hand away.
I stood up and looked him in the face. “It’s true that noble society has a beautiful side and ugly side! Beneath all the romance lie webs of dark intrigue! Countless tales of human drama unfold all at once. Tales of optimism, of love, of success—but also tales of utter failure and destruction. It’s the greatest stage of all, and every possible way of life is portrayed upon it. And I can watch it all from a special box seat. That is my very reason for living. Then, as I fangirl over everything I see, I take those feelings and channel them into my work as hard as I can. That’s my way of life! I don’t have time to go on merry adventures with a burglar, because today, at this very moment, the plays of people’s lives are being performed all around me!”

The playful false smile dropped from his face completely. Lutin just looked at me with a blank expression, not saying a word. Satisfied that I’d conveyed my fangirl perspective as well as I could, I smiled at him once again. “Which is to say, I refuse your offer.”
A moment’s pause, and then: “Ha…haha…” Lutin’s face creased up. He clutched his stomach and burst into uncontrollable laughter. “Ahahahaha! What do you… How does…” He laughed some more before finally calming down enough to talk. “You really are the most interesting girl there is. It’s no use, all it’s done is make me love you more. You can’t expect me to give up.”
“It doesn’t matter. All I can do now is send you on your way.”
“In any case, it seems we’ve run out of time, so I’ll retreat for today. Marielle, the world is bigger than you think, and filled with surprises. I’m confident that before long, you’ll decide you want to take my hand after all.” Lutin briefly glanced to the side, and when I looked in the same direction, I saw a figure running toward us. “Adieu, Marielle!” Leaving me with the same parting words he’d used that night, and the same manner of kiss on the cheek, Lutin ran off. He was impressively fast. In an instant, he was a mere speck on the horizon. All I could do was watch in amazement.
“Marielle!” said Lord Simeon, slowing to a stop nearby, clad in his uniform. He was left quite out of breath. By this point, Lutin had already disappeared from view. “How dare that common criminal do such a thing!” Exposing his raw anger to a degree that was rather uncharacteristic of him, Lord Simeon ground his teeth and wiped my cheek with his sleeve. “Did he do anything else to you? What did he say to you?”
“Everything’s fine. Just like the night of the party, all he did was talk a load of nonsense.” I took out my handkerchief, since beads of sweat had formed on Lord Simeon’s forehead. He ran like the wind to get here, all because of me. How could I ever doubt him, knowing he behaves with such kindness and sincerity? “And I turned him down, needless to say. There’s nothing I’d rather do than stay where I am and admire you, Lord Simeon.”
As I wiped the sweat from his brow, he looked down at me with a decidedly mixed expression. Once he’d got his breath back, he ultimately let out a heavy sigh and returned to his usual face. “It would be safer if you didn’t go outside on your own from now on. It’s too reckless. When you leave the house, you should always have someone accompany you.”
“No, I think it’ll be fine,” I said.
“And you say that based on what, exactly? Weren’t you about to be kidnapped mere moments ago?”
“He gave no indication that he’d make me go with him against my will. Besides, I carefully estimated how long it would take me to get here, so I assumed you’d be here on time and we’d meet up as soon as I arrived.”
I’d got him there. Reluctantly, he replied, “I can only apologize for my lack of punctuality.
You see, I received a message from police headquarters just as I was due to leave.”
“It seems that all your careful planning went to waste. How frustrating. What are we to do with those sloppy, careless policemen?”
“His Highness is giving them a very stern talking-to. Ultimately, all of society’s blame will be focused on the police, so there’s no need for it to cause us any concern. And there won’t only be blame, I’m sure. When word gets out about Lutin’s escape, won’t there be more than a few cries of exultation?”
“After all,” I replied, “for the lower classes, he’s a form of entertainment.” Lord Simeon cocked his head, exasperated as ever. I giggled.
We began walking side by side, and he offered me his arm in the manner that had become entirely natural for us. I nestled up close to him, and we followed the footpath around a pond. The surface was filled with birds. When the water began to freeze over, they would no doubt fly south for the winter. Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be nicer for them to spend all year in a warmer climate, but I suppose birds have their own reasons.
We watched the birds in silence. I was certain that we both had the same topic in mind, but at last, Lord Simeon spoke first. “We agreed that we would talk, did we not? There are a number of things I hid from you, rather than being open and honest. I suspect that this has caused you a great deal of dissatisfaction, so please, say whatever you need to. I will listen and give you my full attention.”
I looked up at him, and he was looking down at me as well. I stared into his clear light blue eyes for a moment, then began. “Now that the moment has arrived, I’m not even sure what to ask you first. Ah, but I do know. I need to know the reason you were drinking tea with the Le Comte sisters. The day before the party, I recall.”
Lord Simeon had something of a surprised reaction. He evidently hadn’t expected that question to be the first thing out of my mouth. “I was pressing them for information about Cedric —Lutin, rather—and his movements at the manor. They had knowledge of all that he’d said and done since he first arrived. Since both of them were…interested in him, I thought it likely that they’d been observing him very closely indeed. You might say it was a search for corroborative evidence. The sisters had no idea of the truth of what they’d been saying, but if I asked them my questions while keeping in mind his true identity and goals, I could see the deeper significance of his seemingly innocent behavior. Their testimony went a long way toward confirming my suspicions.”
Just as I’d thought. And I had no impression that this was any kind of excuse or pretext to cover up genuine infidelity. His explanation was matter-of-fact, and his voice did not hold the slightest hint of a guilty conscience. The reason he gave was true. I had no doubt about that.
“It’s a skill I didn’t expect from you,” I replied. “Engaging in small talk with young ladies and buttering them up with flattery in order to gather information. Playing the typical high society gentleman.” I hadn’t intended to make any snide remarks, but honestly, this tactic was not one I’d have imagined him capable of.
He looked away awkwardly. “If need be, I do have that tool lurking in my toolbox. I realize it’s not especially praiseworthy behavior, of course.”
“I’m not saying I blame you for it. Only…when I saw you with them, I was slightly taken aback.”
He paused. “Which part of the conversation did you witness, exactly?” “The part that was the least fortuitous for me to witness, I believe.”
He was momentarily left speechless. I was certain that he knew exactly which part I meant. His expression suggested that he was very troubled indeed. “I am truly sorry,” he said at last.
Even so, he didn’t attempt any excuses. There was a perfectly good reason why he mirrored the sisters’ attitude and engaged in such casual conversation with them. He’d told me why, with no attempt to sugarcoat it or defend himself unnecessarily. The respectable manner in which he accepted the blame made me quite forget what I’d intended to say. “It’s all fine. Once I’d cooled down, I realized there had to be a good reason. Only…”
I took a moment before continuing. “This is something of a change in subject, but it feels like a good opportunity, so I’ll ask you now. Lord Simeon, do you still intend to continue with your engagement to me? Not because it’s the inevitable consequence of the path we’re on, but because you consciously will it to be so?”

“Of course.” He responded without waiting even a moment, directing his gaze at me again. His demeanor made it very clear that this was an honest expression of his thoughts.
“And you definitely weren’t strong-armed into it by my father? You weren’t forced to propose to me because he’s holding something over you, some secret information?”
“This again? I haven’t the foggiest idea where this notion came from, but I am not being threatened by Viscount Emile in any way, shape or form. If it came to that, do you honestly believe that he could stand up to me anyway?”
“But what if he learned of your true feelings, and was using those to influence you?”
“What the devil do you… That’s not…” His facial expression wavered enough to suggest that I’d hit upon the truth. Bingo.
I took a deep breath. I had to keep myself calm—none of my inappropriate eccentricity. I wanted to talk about this with a level head so that he might listen with a level head as well. “I’ve realized the truth, Lord Simeon. I know that there’s someone you’re in love with.”
“…Huh?”
“You would marry that person if you could, wouldn’t you? That’s my assumption, in any case. Unfortunately, same-sex marriage is not allowed. And, even if you became lovers and
stayed as such, the eyes of society are cruel, and you’d receive very little in the way of understanding.”
“…Excuse me?”
“And with the object of your affections being royalty—the crown prince himself—it would become a major scandal. There’s no way it could be permitted. It’s the type of information that must be suppressed at all costs. Feelings you never intended to speak of…that you planned to take with you to the grave.”
He said nothing in response, so I continued.
“Furthermore, while this is somewhat hard for me to say, the impression I have of His Highness is that…he prefers the company of the opposite sex. Which means that your love is unrequited, does it not?”
I’d found it hard to look at him while I spoke, but I briefly glimpsed up and saw that this face had turned so deathly pale, it was almost blue. It’s inevitable, I suppose. I’ve hit upon the truth he didn’t want to be exposed under any circumstances. No wonder he’s shaken. But I had more to say, and somehow I stayed calm until the very end.
“But please, I beg you, be assured that I won’t let it slip to anyone. Absolutely no one! I won’t even tell my best friend Julianne. And of course, I definitely won’t use it as material for my books! I promise you, I will keep your secret as long as I live! The only reason I’ve brought it up now is because I needed you to know that you don’t have to keep it a secret from me.”
“…Marielle,” he said at last.
“Lord Simeon, I support you fully! If there is absolutely anything I can do to help you, to ensure that you can be as close as possible to His Highness while keeping your feelings a secret, I will do it! If our sham engagement is a hindrance to you, I’ll cancel it. If, on the other hand, my presence offers you the perfect cover story, then I’ll marry you. Just tell me what you want me to do. I want to be the person you can trust, the person who understands what you’re going through!”
Lord Simeon opened his mouth halfway, then stalled, lost for words. His broad shoulders moved up and down in a dramatic motion. His face had been shaking, but at this point it rapidly grew severe. A menacing air emanated from him. This is a bit scary. He’s not thinking of…silencing me, is he? No, surely not! I just said I’d support him no matter what!
In a voice so deep and heavy it could have come straight from the depths of hell, he said, “So you’re telling me that would be quite all right with you?” I gave a firm nod. “I swear to you, I am not lying.”
“You’d be happy to cancel the engagement or to go forward with a sham marriage…” His tightly clenched fist was shaking.
I suddenly wondered if I had said something wrong. All I’d been trying to do was show him my sincerity to the very best of my ability!
“Is that the type of marriage partner I am to you?” he continued, his voice brimming with rage. “One where you’d accept any outcome without so much as an objection? I don’t matter to you any more than that?”
I blinked. “What?” What is he talking about? That’s not what I was saying at all! When did I remotely suggest that I don’t care about him!?
He snarled, “You’re saying that if the engagement were to be canceled, it wouldn’t cause you the slightest bother? You’d go along with it with no reluctance at all?”
“That is NOT what I’m saying!”
“Then tell me what you ARE saying, because it sounded entirely clear to me!”
His gaze was so fearsome that my instincts told me to run, but I knew if I left now, there was no coming back. I clenched my teeth, screwed my courage to the sticking place, and answered him. “Why would I go ahead with a sham marriage to someone if I didn’t care what happened to them? Why would I devote my whole life to someone I felt so little for? Just because it’s a marriage of convenience doesn’t mean I intend to simply throw my life away.”
“Th-then why!?” he spluttered. “Because I love you!”
The words flew out of my mouth with all the intensity still in my voice, but Lord Simeon’s face changed immediately. All the violent emotion disappeared, and he was left completely lost for words.
I had the sense that his guard was down, so I decided to seize the opportunity and press him further. “If it wasn’t for the sake of someone I love, I wouldn’t devote my life in the manner I described. You live your life in service to His Highness, and in the same way, I’m prepared to offer everything I am in service to you. I support you with all my might. If there’s any way for you to find even the smallest amount of happiness, I want to help you!”
When I stopped to catch my breath, I realized that my shoulders were rising and falling violently with each breath. There. I’ve told him everything, not hiding even a single detail. Now he can’t possibly claim to have misunderstood.

Steadying my breath, I looked up at his face again. But the look on his face now was a surprise indeed. His pale face, which until moments ago had been so deathly pale it was almost blue, was now an impressive shade of bright red. He held his hand across his mouth. His eyes were spinning. It was such an odd reaction that all the words I’d planned to say next vanished from my mind.
Instead, I hesitated a moment and asked, “Are you all right?” I took a step closer and tried to get a proper look at him, but he jumped with a start.
“Uh, I, you…” he mumbled.
How strange. He’s getting redder by the second. Even his ears and his neck are bright red. I’m really not sure he’s well. He hasn’t burst a blood vessel, has he?
“Is that… Are you… Is that the truth?” “What?” I replied.
“That you…l-l-love me…?”
“Oh, that’s what you’re referring to. Yes, it’s the truth.” Although it was a bit embarrassing to have to confirm this to him after only just telling him moments ago, I found myself replying in a rather calm manner. Lord Simeon was so uncharacteristically agitated that he sent me into quite the opposite state.
“In…in what sense?” he continued. “Is this another of your fangirl moments?”
“Naturally, Lord Simeon, I could never forget how hard I fangirl over you. I could never talk of you without it bearing some relevance to that. However, that’s not what I meant in this instance. I meant that I love you. That I want to marry you and stay with you for my entire life. That I want to be your wife. But if you don’t want that, I will walk away without hesitation. I would never want to cause the one I love any pain or discomfort.”
“I want that! I want it, so please don’t walk away! Quite the opposite! Walk toward me! I will never, ever say that I don’t want that! Not as long as I live!” He spoke with such vigor, I actually did walk…not away, but one step back, at least.
“Really?” I replied. “Are you sure, Lord Simeon? You truly want to marry someone you don’t love? And a woman, at that?”
“It’s relatively normal for me to marry a woman, isn’t it!? Anyway, you have it all wrong! I most definitely do not have the predilections you describe! The ONLY feelings I harbor toward His Highness are my duty to him as his subject and my affection for him as a friend!”
“Oh. Really?”
What? Is this true? Have I misunderstood? Whether pale blue or bright red, Lord Simeon continued to shake violently. I honestly wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth or not. But he doesn’t look as if he’s lying. I mean, I don’t get that feeling from him, I don’t think…
“Yes, really! What could possibly have caused you to misunderstand so utterly and completely!? Well, no doubt you once again patterned it all after some story or other…but please, try to draw a line between that and real life! It’s inconsiderate toward me, not to mention His Highness!”
“It has nothing to do with any story. Lord Simeon, think about it. Even when the Three Flowers of Tarentule tried to seduce you, you didn’t show any interest in them at all. If not one of those three can tug at your heartstrings, there must be something unusual about you. No other man could resist.”
“What kind of an absurd theory is that!?”

Steadying my breath, I looked up at his face again. But the look on his face now was a surprise indeed. His pale face, which until moments ago had been so deathly pale it was almost blue, was now an impressive shade of bright red. He held his hand across his mouth. His eyes were spinning. It was such an odd reaction that all the words I’d planned to say next vanished from my mind.
Instead, I hesitated a moment and asked, “Are you all right?” I took a step closer and tried to get a proper look at him, but he jumped with a start.
“Uh, I, you…” he mumbled.
How strange. He’s getting redder by the second. Even his ears and his neck are bright red. I’m really not sure he’s well. He hasn’t burst a blood vessel, has he?
“Is that… Are you… Is that the truth?” “What?” I replied.
“That you…l-l-love me…?”
“Oh, that’s what you’re referring to. Yes, it’s the truth.” Although it was a bit embarrassing to have to confirm this to him after only just telling him moments ago, I found myself replying in a rather calm manner. Lord Simeon was so uncharacteristically agitated that he sent me into quite the opposite state.
“In…in what sense?” he continued. “Is this another of your fangirl moments?”
“Naturally, Lord Simeon, I could never forget how hard I fangirl over you. I could never talk of you without it bearing some relevance to that. However, that’s not what I meant in this instance. I meant that I love you. That I want to marry you and stay with you for my entire life. That I want to be your wife. But if you don’t want that, I will walk away without hesitation. I would never want to cause the one I love any pain or discomfort.”
“I want that! I want it, so please don’t walk away! Quite the opposite! Walk toward me! I will never, ever say that I don’t want that! Not as long as I live!” He spoke with such vigor, I actually did walk…not away, but one step back, at least.
“Really?” I replied. “Are you sure, Lord Simeon? You truly want to marry someone you don’t love? And a woman, at that?”
“It’s relatively normal for me to marry a woman, isn’t it!? Anyway, you have it all wrong! I most definitely do not have the predilections you describe! The ONLY feelings I harbor toward His Highness are my duty to him as his subject and my affection for him as a friend!”
“Oh. Really?”
What? Is this true? Have I misunderstood? Whether pale blue or bright red, Lord Simeon continued to shake violently. I honestly wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth or not. But he doesn’t look as if he’s lying. I mean, I don’t get that feeling from him, I don’t think…
“Yes, really! What could possibly have caused you to misunderstand so utterly and completely!? Well, no doubt you once again patterned it all after some story or other…but please, try to draw a line between that and real life! It’s inconsiderate toward me, not to mention His Highness!”
“It has nothing to do with any story. Lord Simeon, think about it. Even when the Three Flowers of Tarentule tried to seduce you, you didn’t show any interest in them at all. If not one of those three can tug at your heartstrings, there must be something unusual about you. No other man could resist.”
“What kind of an absurd theory is that!?”

When he finally pulled away, the loss of his body heat against me left me a tiny bit disappointed. However, this did give another clear look at his face, which was a special pleasure.
A broad smile spread across my face. Lord Simeon snorted, then gave me the same smile of his that I’d become so used to.
I love his kind, graceful smile. I love how serious and sincere he is. When he needs to be, he can be that formidable man, the one with the dark and murky depths, and I love that about him as well. Sometimes he’s eccentric and strange, and I love that about him too. I love absolutely everything about Lord Simeon.
“Now it’s not only fight scenes that I can write with perfect realism, but kissing scenes as well.”
He replied, “Ultimately, that is who you are, isn’t it? Am I to assume I’ll be a source of reference material for my entire life?”
“Yes! After all, you’re the person I always want to have beside me, so that I can look at you from the closest possible distance. I won’t give up this ringside seat to anyone else.” He grinned. “The tickets are sold out, anyway. No one else will be getting in.”
We giggled to one another, then lightly touched our lips together again. The birds had returned to the surface of the pond and were clustering around the food thrown into the water by children nearby. We started walking again and took in the relaxing scenery.
I want to keep walking together like this forever. When ice covers the pond, when the snow starts to melt, when the rays of the sun bear down on us, and even when the leaves begin to fall again. Let’s watch the seasons change together again and again and again. Endlessly, like the endless story that we’ll write together.
You are the person I fangirl over more than anyone else in the world. You are the person most precious to me out of everyone in the world.
And I will continue to gaze at you forever, from the closest position out of everyone in the world—right by your side.


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