As the post-war situation was settled to some extent, I returned to my usual life. Though, the school was in the middle of a long holiday, so I stayed at home the whole time.
After I received the blessing of the Light Spirit King, my surroundings have become noisier than before. People who used to avoid me have started to treat me favorably.
I couldn’t trust the people who changed their attitudes so easily. There’s no way of knowing when they will turn their backs on me again.
Thanks to Amelia losing the Light Spirit King’s protection, I was able to avoid the BAD END, but when I think about how fast the people around me changed, I still can’t allow myself to relax.
Hence, I stayed in the mansion as usual and quietly passed my days.
One day, when I was reading a book in my room, I was summoned by my mother. It might’ve been the first time since I was born, that my mother has initiated the contact. Nervous about what could be the matter, I visited my mother’s room.
As soon as I entered, I was told to sit on the sofa. After I did as I was told, my mother also sat down opposite of me, on the other side of the table. And without any preface, she spoke.
“Tea party invitations have come for you.”
There were several invitations on the table.
“All of them are hosted by people who I’m on friendly terms with.”
It seems that despite almost never leaving the house, my mother still has some people she’s associating with. While thinking that it was somehow unexpected, I also realised that I knew almost nothing about her.
Still, why would I be invited to a tea party hosted by my mother’s acquaintances?
While I was pondering, mother continued.
“As long as you are a daughter of a noble, having outside connections is necessary.”
“…Hence I should attend all these tea parties?”
What a pain. I don’t want people doing a 180 degree turn and swarming to me just because I received the Light Spirit King’s blessing. I know that it’s important to make connections at such places, but I don’t even have a sliver of interest.
Mother’s expression was stiff. No matter how I thought about it, we weren’t likely to have a peaceful parent-child conversation. We have never done it before.
After I said so and stood up as if my business was done, Mother talked again.
Hearing her voice, I stopped in a half-rising posture and sat back on the couch.
Mother’s clasped fists rested on her knees and she was looking down.
“After you received the Light Spirit King’s blessing, many people have started thinking about making connections with you.”
“I am aware.”
There’s a limit even to selfishness. How can they change their attitudes so quickly after shunning me all this time?
“I also don’t find the current you as scary as before. Various stories about you have reached my ears too, saying that you are a kind, courageous person. No, I have been told the same by Jordan even since a long time ago, but I always kept covering my ears. Even though deep in my heart I understood that Jordan’s words were true.
Does she think that I will easily believe her if she tells me those things now? The history between us wasn’t something so happy.
“I have been thinking that it is about time I faced you. That I should not run away. However, I do not plan to change my attitude towards you. I mean, it’s already too late for that, right? I can’t forget everything that has happened until now and act like a normal mother. Still, I want to meet you halfway.
Mother said in one breath and looked at me with eyes full of the strong determination that I had never seen before.
In contrast, I didn’t understand my heart quite well.
Anger, happiness, sadness.
Those three emotions were clashing with each other inside me.
However, as expected, anger was still the strongest.
“It is truly too late.”
Hearing my words, Mother tightened her fists. Her eyes, wavering in sadness, made my heart even more restless.
Father was also the same. Each time I acted coldly, he would show a hurt expression, as if he was the victim. Then, am I the perpetrator who’s hurting them?
“This whole conversation, that is. Do you not think so yourself? For you, I have always been a dangerous existence that could harm your precious son. How could that change so easily just because my skin color changed or the attitudes of other people improved after I went to war once?”
I don’t condemn the act of admitting one’s faults, however that doesn’t mean that I can accept it right away. After all, I haven’t forgotten the wounds that I’ve received.
“That’s not all. You didn’t do anything to Sylphonse, right?”
“Yes, however, at that time you didn’t believe my words.”
I don’t need an apology. There’s no way I would want something like that.
“I’m not asking for an apology. After all, I have no intentions of forgiving you.”
“Even if my skin color or the attitudes of the people around me change, the past will remain unchanged. What you all did will not become undone.”
There were tears welling up in my mother’s eyes. Her tightened fists were trembling. In my head, I laughed in self-derision. Doesn’t this situation just look like I’m bullying someone weaker than me?
“I understand that.”
Is she tormented by her guilty guilty conscience? Tears spilling from the eyes she had cast down wet her knees and hands.
“…However, I liked your words about ‘not intending to change your attitude’. Certainly, if you suddenly changed your attitude towards me, I would come to hate you even more.”
I don’t like my mother, but I also understand that we can’t remain the same as before.
“I will attend the tea party. And if, in the future, you wish to talk with me again, I will at least join you for a small talk.”
Mother looked at me in surprise.
“Please do not misunderstand. It’s not like I have fully forgiven you. This is the biggest compromise I can offer you.”
“Yes, of course. I understand that much, But, still, thank you…”
Saying so, mother started to cry.
My heart was left in a mess.
I attended the tea party just as mother instructed me to.
Today’s tea party was attended by noble ladies from the houses with higher ranks than Count, but they were mostly older than me and I didn’t have any acquaintances.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Lady Layzia.
The hostess of the party called out to me.
“I have heard the rumors, but your hair and eyes are truly beautiful.”
“…Thank you very much. This is the first time I have been complimented in such a way.”
“Oh my! Other people must’ve not had very discerning eyes.”
She smoothly replied to my sarcasm with a smile. She seems to be a lady which cannot be not dealt with by ordinary means.
After that, I exchanged similar greetings with several other noble ladies and we took our seats.
They all showered me with very friendly smiles. As a nobleman’s daughter myself, I was also supposed to answer similarly with a smile, but my face muscles didn’t move.
After some idle talk, one of the nobles talked.
“Have you already decided on your fiance, Lady Layzia?”
The serious looks that were different from before were instantly directed at me.
I suppose this is the main topic of today.
Tea parties hosted by noble ladies might look like a simple entertainment in the eyes of commoners, but in truth, it’s something that simple. Information exchanged under the cover of smiles and compliments might turn out to have a great influence on their lives.
“Well…I wonder? Father and older brother seem to have their own thoughts, but I have not been notified about anything.”
This is the truth. Ever since I received the Light Spirit King’s blessing, some marriage proposals have come for me, but I have absolutely no idea who they were from. My father and older brother seem to have refused all of them.
“Oh my, even though it concerns your future?”
She showed a bewildered and worried expression, but I could feel the sense of superiority the noble lady in front of me held towards me.
“With all due respect, I have heard that the relationship between you and your parents is not very good. Is that the reason?”
While thinking that it really was too rude to ask something like that to a person one met for the first time, I pretended not to mind it and answered.
“It’s not quite because we have a bad relationship. Please do not be unjustly suspicious. I’m sure they would tell me if they found somebody suitable for me. We do talk that much. “
“O-oh, I see. That is very reassuring.”
Perhaps because of my sharp words, the lady who was conversing with me paled. Then, another noble talked to me.
“Lady layzia, you seem to have a good relationship with both Princes, do you not?”
“Indeed. After all, His Highness Edgar is my classmate and His Highness Levy is my older brother’s friend. I have the pleasure of being on friendly terms with them.”
Everybody gathered here is from the families that are of higher ranks than Count. In other words, all of them have the qualifications to get engaged with the Princes. That’s why they must be trying to get the information about Their Royal Highnesses from me.
“Have you ever talked about the engagement with them?”
“Never. Even if they are my friends, talking about such topic with the opposite sex is embarrassing. Hence, I am trying to avoid touching upon such subjects with them.”
Unable to attain any kind of information, the noble lady seemed disappointed.
“To change the topic, how do you usually spend your time at home, Lady Layzia?”
Perhaps realizing that they couldn’t get any more information even if they continued talking about fiancees, the girls seemed to have decided to change the topic.
“I read a lot. Sometimes I also drink tea with my older brother.”
“Oh my, how wonderful”
“What do you usually talk about with Liam-sama?”
I see. So this is their aim.
They seem to want to get the information not only about Their Royal Highnesses but also about my older brother. My brother is the future head of the renowned Layzia ducal family and possesses quite good looks. I suppose, he’s a promising husband candidate after the Princes.
“Mainly about the school, I suppose.”
“Do you also listen to the stories about Liam-sama’s school friends?”
They wouldn’t bend forward, but I could see the desperation of their faces.
“My older brother’s stories are mainly about His Highness Levy.”
“Given that Liam-sama is very gentlemanly and cool, he must surely have a lover. Have you not heard stories like that?”
Perhaps becoming impatient, one of the noble ladies asked a direct question. Everybody’s eyes turned into those of a beast stalking its prey. Yikes. So scary.
“There is no way he could talk about things like that with his younger sister. It would be one thing if we were same-sex siblings, but since it’s embarrassing to talk about that topic with opposite-sex siblings, such conversations would be mostly avoided. Is that not right?”
I smiled and decided to wrap up this conversation. After all, even if they ask, I don’t know a thing about my brother’s lover.
“Please do let me hear stories about everybody’s siblings too.”
After that, we casually made up a story and somehow managed to conclude the tea party.
When I returned from the tea party, Jordan welcomed me with an apologetic expression.
“Please forgive me for imploring you when you are tired, but Master is calling for you.”
Father rarely calls for me, though still not as rarely as Mother does.
What’s with them today all of sudden?
Although I was already fed up with it, I headed towards my father’s office.
“So you’ve come, Claudia.”
“I heard that you have called for me.”
My father won’t call me unless he has something to say. Mother told me to participate in tea parties, but I wonder if Father wants to demand something from me too?
“Is this perhaps about the matter of the fiancé?”
“No, it’s a separate subject.”
Father’s words slightly surprised me. I don’t think that there is a matter other than the engagement that would require my presence…
“In that case, what seems to be the matter?”
Father didn’t answer me right away. He kept restlessly moving his eyes and closing and opening the hands he had folded on the table, looking somewhat strange. It seemed like he was fine with summoning me, but couldn’t decide whether to talk or not.
“Several people have expressed their desire to become your maids out of nowhere. I was thinking of hiring them, but I still wanted to hear your thoughts.”
The first thing I remembered after hearing those words was my childhood and the appearances of maids who would spill tea on me out of nervousness or would faint after being called.
“You haven’t had a maid for a long time and we left taking care of you to Lord Gerald, but that’s something unthinkable for normal noble ladies. “
“Yes, I am well aware.”
I snorted unconsciously.
“Unfortunately, it cannot be helped since I am not a normal noble lady.”
What is he talking about so late? Did he think that I would be happy? What a joke.
“However, the situation is different from before.”
“Hence I should accept it?”
Father lowered his eyebrows apologetically. He must be regretting telling it to me.
“…I know what you want to say.”
“No, you don’t! You don’t know anything. Duke, did you think that I would be happy about this situation?! People have suddenly started to treat me favorably, send me numerous marriage proposals and even invite me to tea parties. Everybody is singing praises of me, saying that my『black hair and black eyes are very beautiful』”
I wonder what kind of expression I have right now.
I don’t even know if I’m laughing, smiling or keeping an expressionless face. I mean, I don’t even know what I’m feeling, what is the emotion I have been experiencing lately.
“Several people who want to become my maids have appeared? So what? Is that supposed to make me happy?”
I can’t feel honestly happy. Me not having a maid isn’t a problem that can be solved so easily.
“Nobody dared to approach me because they were afraid. I always thought that it couldn’t be helped and never said anything. No matter how many times maids spilled tea on me or fainted just because I talked to them, I always thought that it couldn’t be helped because I was different from normal noble ladies.”
After all, I’m a villainess. That’s why I thought that it couldn’t be helped. Despite thinking that what the person who had the Dark Spirit King’s protection did in the past had nothing to do with me, I still accepted it as something inevitable. That’s what I told myself.
It was inevitable that I was unloved.
It was inevitable that I was shunned.
It was a problem that nobody could do anything about.
I lived thinking so.
“If it was so easy to negate everything that had happened so far, then why won’t my wounds disappear? If it was so easy to undo everything, then why am I in such pain right now?”
Who was that question for? Even I didn’t understand it well.
“I cannot be happy for any of those things. All the goodwill from people looks like malice to me.”
Is that also my fault? Am I the one at fault for being unable to honestly accept this situation?
“I appreciate the sentiment, but I would like to refuse, Well then, please excuse me.”
When I noticed, I had left behind both my father’s office and the mansion. Even though the sun had already started to set, I was still walking away from the house.
My head was in a mess. I simply kept walking, not thinking about the direction I was heading towards.
After I walked until the surroundings became shrouded in darkness, I sat down on the bench I found by coincidence.
A short while after I spent some time dazing out, a person who wasn’t supposed to be here appeared before me.
“Young lady, if you’re alone at such a place, you’ll be kidnapped by a bad guy like me.”
“Your Highness Levy…”
Why is he here…or rather, where am I?
The surroundings were devoid of life and still as death.
“What are you doing here at this kind of time?”
“That’s my line.”
He said with a slightly troubled face and sat down next to me.
“I was called by Lord Gerald?”
Speaking of which, Gerald isn’t here. Has he ever left my side in the past? No, before that, I didn’t even realize that he was gone.
“I heard about what happened with Duke Layzia.”
“Is that so…
His Highness Levy simply stayed by my side, not saying anything.
After a long silence, I started to talk again.
“I cannot keep up with the current situation. This murky feeling keeps whirling inside of me and it feels disgusting.”
“That’s inevitable. Everything has changed way too quickly. You’re just confused at that. You‘re so confused that an existence called 『Claudia』has been left behind.”
Hearing His Highness Levy’s words, I suddenly started to cry,
“You aren’t strong, You’re just acting tough. It’s important to understand the situation you’re in, Claudia. But there’s something else you should be doing right now. You must first think about why you have abandoned『Claudia』.”
“I have abandoned myself?”
I couldn’t understand His Highness Levy’s words. It is true I couldn’t keep up with the change in the surroundings, but I’ve had no intentions of abandoning myself.
“Yeah, you were trying so hard to get stronger that you’ve neglected your weak self. The reason you are so confused right now is because your weak self, who wasn’t noticed by anybody, has reached its limit. From what I’ve seen, you have always accepted being hated as something that couldn’t be helped. But in reality, you were hurt all the time. Haven’t you always hid that both from others and yourself?”
After all, it cannot be helped, can it? Even when I tried my best to communicate with them, everybody just kept being scared of me. I hadn’t done anything bad, but at some point in time, it would turn into my fault.
…Have I been hurt? Have I become tired from being too hurt?
“The reason you’ve endured so much is because you’ve always been seized by your role as 『someone who was shunned』”
That’s right. I, who have the memories from my past life, know what role Claudia plays in this story. The villainess Claudia I know never showed a weakness. She didn’t care about being hated by people around her and continued to act arrogantly until the moment she was killed.
Even though I always thought that there was no set story in this world, in the depth of my heart, I seem to have been captured by my role as a villainess.
How foolish. Now I can’t laugh at Amelia.
“Come here, Claudia. You can cry with all your might now. You have the right to. Let out all the emotions you’re feeling along with your tears. You’ll definitely feel better that way.”
Saying so, His Highness Levy hugged me.
That day, I cried in front of somebody for the first time in my life.
After I cried my eyes out, I felt my heart lightening.
His Highness Levy smiled at me, saying that he was finally able to see my smile.
After that, His Highness Levy took me back to the mansion.
At home, Gerald, Jordan, Liam and Sylphonse were all waiting for me.
Sylphonse clung to me while crying, while Liam and Jordan looked at me and sighed with relief.
Realizing that I had worried them quite much, I apologized.
Several days later. The bewilderment due to so many people talking to me in a friendly way didn’t go away, but I was no longer dominated by indescribable feelings like before.
Nevertheless, as I didn’t feel like meeting other people and was reading a book at the library in the mansion, His Highness Levy paid me a visit.
“Hiya, you’ve been well?”
“Good day, Your Highness Levy. I’m fine, thank you.”
His Highness smiled at my answer.
“I see. That’s a relief. Actually, there’s something I want to ask you. I refrained last time because it wasn’t appropriate at that moment. Can I ask now?”
“Yes. What is the matter?”
“There seems to be a considerable amount of marriage proposals coming for you. What are you planning to do?”
For some reason, His Highness Levy didn’t quite seem to be in a good mood today.
“What is there to even plan, I’m a person of a ducal family. So if it’s for the sake of the family, I will marry whoever.”
I don’t know why, but His Highness Levy showed a slightly sad expression. Did I say something bad?
“However, as of now, Father and Older Brother seem to be rejecting all proposals.”
As I answered so, His Highness Levy sighed.
That’s when Gerald appeared.
“Claudia, I don’t think that’s what the Prince over there wants to hear.”
Usually, he doesn’t show himself to people besides me, how rare. His Highness Levy smiled at Gerald, not showing any hints of surprise.
“Hello, Lord Gerard.”
“You can discard the honorifics.”
Gerald said arrogantly, with his arms folded over his chest.
“What’s wrong, Gerald? It’s rare for you to come out.”
“You were just so dense that I couldn’t stand it anymore.”
“Claudia, what do you, personally, think about the matter of engagement? I think that that Prince wants to hear about your thoughts about the marriage, leaving out the family.”
What I think…
When I looked towards His Highness Levy, I found him smiling wryly at me. Looks like what Gerald said hit the bullseye.
“As for me…yes, frankly speaking, I’m jumping at shadows. Until just a while ago, I had given up on ever getting married, so this situation might be something I need to be happy about. But as expected, I cannot rejoice.”
I had thought that it would be good enough if I went to the monastery in the future. Avoiding BAD END was my biggest priority, so I never even put the thoughts about marriage in my mind.
However, since the situation has changed and marriage proposals have started to come for me, I’ll probably end up marrying for the sake of the family, like other noble ladies.
“Ever since the banquet, the eyes people looked at me with have completely changed. People who want to become friends with me have appeared and I have started to get not only engagement talks, but also the invitations to tea parties. While on one hand I feel happy, on the other hand, after thinking everything over calmly, all kind of emotions like 『it’s way too late for that』or 『don’t kid me』start to bubble up…I don’t understand it well myself either.”
“Well, that’s natural.”
His Highness Levy said sympathetically.
“That must be the reason why your father and older brother keep rejecting marriage proposals.”
Gerald nodded, as if to express agreement to their choice.
If that’s the case, I’m very thankful. I’ve calmed down now, but I still can’t keep with the changes in the attitudes of people around me and I don’t really feel like dealing with those who swarm to me either.”
After hearing my words, His Highness Levy opened his mouth once again.
“Then, that means you don’t want to marry anybody immediately?”
Seeing that I nodded, His Highness Levy added “I see”, as if relieved. I found his reaction strange and stared at him, but he smiled at me with his usual gently smile.
When I saw that smile, for some reason I felt embarrassed and averted my eyes.
After shifting his line of sight towards the window for a short while, His Highness Levy looked back at me.
“Hey Claudia, why don’t we go out for a while?”
“I don’t have anything in particular planned today so I don’t mind it.”
When I answered so, His Highness Levy smiled happily. His smile was so like that of a child that my face got even hotter. I’m happy that I got to see an unexpected side of the usually calm and reliable His Highness Levy.
“In that case, let’s go.”
His Highness Levy pulled my hand and we left the library. Before I knew, Gerald had disappeared.