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Chapter 49

The fief lord stared down at the letter that the mute boy had handed to him. It was from his one and only daughter. He had stared at it for a long time, but even then, the contents of the letter did not change.

He let out a sigh. He was already distressed enough during a time like this. Ever since the day his wife had died, the world around Lord Hare had turned gray. His duties as a fief lord held little importance to him, and even his daughter, who resembled his wife closely, was not a source of comfort for him.

Ever since that time he was looking all over the woods where Catherine had run away to, the years had passed in an instant. When he regained his senses, it was already after Verdic had, at some point, taken away many of his rights as the fief lord. However, he did not feel any resentment towards Verdic. There was nothing left in this world that made him feel.

However, this letter shocked him a bit.

He rubbed both palms against his eyes. He was exhausted.

He let out a series of long, drawn-out sighs and clasped his hands together, interlocking his fingers. Then, he raised his head to look at his wife’s portrait.

“…I believe you.”

That’s why he did all that.

Rising from his seat, he then set the letter on fire. The paper distorted at the heat and soon crumbled in the flames. However, the contents remained to be deeply engraved in the fief lord’s mind, as though branded permanently.

* * *

“How much medicine did you put in this?”

When Carynne refused to eat, Dullan eventually brought back food for her personally. Watching him shift his eyes like that, they reminded her of a dead fish’s eyes on the chopping board. From that look alone, Carynne could guess that Dullan had already heard the entire story from Borwen and the fief lord.

After a while, he spoke timidly.

“…A lot.”

“You’re a terribly magnificent family doctor. It’s a compliment, so be thankful.”

Dullan remained silent.

Lying on her bed, Carynne sat up and stared intently at the drugged food. So that’s it. The reason why Dullan was her fiancé. He was given the role of the next fief lord not because of family politics, but because of the drugs he could administer.

His job was to be a butcher and a cook. Carynne wondered just how much drugs he’d slip in along with the spices in the dishes he made. Now she knew why the meals in the Hare manor were exceptionally terrible compared to the food she ate at Raymond’s place. Just thinking about how much drugs she’d been fed through these meals made her enraged. Compared to anything else, this was what she was the most furious with. It was already a short life, so why must they take away from her the joy of eating?

“Right, if I think about it that way, everything falls into place.”

From her own memories and the knowledge of her mother’s suitors, Carynne knew that she had many opportunities ahead of her. She was the sole heir to this estate. And her outward appearance was truly remarkable.

Given more time, she could have had her pick from a lot more men. She had many choices, considering how many second sons of noble households were out there who didn’t have the rights to their family’s inheritance and title. Besides them, there was also the nouveau riche who wanted to gain peerage.

“If my mother had married someone from the royal family, it would have been possible to go overseas. What a shame. What do you think, Mister Family Doctor?”

“…I, I think you might have been no…rmal. If you were born in, in a different household.”

“Whoop-dee-doo.”

What a way with words. Carynne pushed away the meal that Dullan brought for her. She didn’t feel like eating at all.

Staring at the gaunt cheeks of her skinny relative, she thought— As expected, he’s far from the word ‘handsome’ even if she tried to look at him favorably.

“Now that you mention it, if I had been born in some other country, I might have either gone through the same repetitions, or my mother might have continued hers.”

Even as a woman who was in no position to meet mega rich people or nobles of higher statures, it was by no means impossible for her. This had already been proven by her mother. Rather, it was a morganatic marriage. She was a daughter of a noble man and a woman who had once been courted by a member of the royal family. From ancient times and still to the present, a woman’s beauty was held in high regard.

From a contractual perspective, it was a normal marriage where each side could get what they needed. Carynne herself, if she were to go to the capital, was not the most beautiful woman there. She was even the one who had the most humble background. Rather, if the other person wasn’t from as high of a stature as the royal family, then he would be a better match for her. However, the fief lord had already engaged Carynne to Dullan.

“So, eight years in the abbey?”

“…That’s right.”

“You’ve been studying medicine for the last eight years, yet you’re the next fief lord? What a joke. Haha, amazing.”

Carynne snorted.

She couldn’t believe that they took this poor distant relative, who had been studying medicine all this time, and forced him into the seat of the next fief lord. Her father had pulled the strings to situate a man like Dullan in this position not only to cure Carynne’s insanity, but also so he could be booted off at any given time.

From the very beginning, the fief lord had deliberately placed Dullan in that position to prepare for when Carynne would meet the real ‘male lead’.

“Looks like Father and Mother had quite the fun dealings.”

Carynne could guess what was on the fief lord’s mind.

Catherine, who had numerous suitors, had been engaged to one of them, but she ended that engagement and married Lord Hare. Right now, the fief lord was waiting for the real male lead to appear and even set up an obstacle called Dullan—as it had been his case in the past.

It was a reiteration of the 「 plot 」.

“Do you believe any of it? What me and my parents are saying.”

“Wh, What I think will no…t matter.”

“After hearing such a scrumptious story, why are you keeping your mouth shut?”

“……”

Looking at it in another light, Dullan wasn’t exactly losing anything here. Even if he did not become the next fief lord, Dullan would be given the chance to take charge of the parish.

Besides that, if he wouldn’t become a clergyman and would later be left out of the group, he had something to fall back on because he had learned the practice of medicine. Actually, his influence was further strengthened because he could take care of Carynne while he was right next to her.

It’s not a bad deal for each side if it was considered this way.

“What do you think, though? Do you believe it just like Father? Do you believe me and my mother?”

Dullan blinked and managed to stutter out an answer.

“…I-I do.”

“Why don’t you take out your doctor’s license and throw it at the feet of the elephant in the circus, hm? I’m sure it’ll stomp on it very thoroughly for you. Make sure you send that elephant over to the parish while you’re at it.”

Despite Carynne’s retort, Dullan continued.

“I-If I don’t believe you, will anything change?”

“And what would change if you believe me?”

Silence ensued once more. Just as she was about to get annoyed from the waiting, the answer came out right then.

“…Com, fort.”

“What?”

“……”

“No, I couldn’t hear it properly, but I won’t say such nonsense back. I’m at a loss for words, that’s why. So, comfort is good, yeah.”

Carynne was dumbfounded by Dullan’s unexpected answer.

So you believe… You’re saying that you believe me here?

It’s true that Carynne asked the question, but she had been expecting the opposite answer to come back her way.

“It would be more reasonable for you to say that this entire family is just insane… But it’s even funnier that I’m the one saying this.”

Even still, Carynne had half a mind that both she and her mother were crazy at the same time. At least, it’s perhaps at the level that no one else in the world would be able to prove.

It was enough to ask oneself, isn’t it that this world seems like a shadow of an idea? It’s a story that had nothing to do with reality and didn’t any longer cause any ripples that affected her.

But since Dullan was a doctor, a priest, he should have denied her regressions. Unlike her father, he should be thinking that Carynne was simply delusional—that this was her only life and that she was not repeating it.

She wanted to hear such sweet words.

“You have your own life as well, after all. Sure.”

If you didn’t, then your life would be nothing but the life of a bred stallion. It must feel terrible to confirm that you have the kind of life that had only a moderate amount of excitement.

Carynne could guess. Such jealousy was universal, even if where she was now was different. What a self-centered, egotistic articulation it would be for a side character to say.

Anyone who acknowledged that, in their own life, they were the main character would actually have made it so that both the lord and madam of this fiefdom were the supporting characters.

“Dullan, do you need comfort?”

So, if I were to choose Dullan over Raymond here, would he become my true love? Isn't that quite the plausible story, Father? To refuse the handsome, attractive suitor and find true love elsewhere. Or, for a simple kind of love to become real, like a bluebird in one’s heart.

“Huh?”

Carynne reached out and stroked Dullan’s cheek.

Rationally speaking, this wouldn’t be a bad deal for Dullan either. However, emotionally speaking, this was no different from losing what you had once received. Carynne knew how any ordinary person’s mind worked.

All that greed. Though it was not originally theirs and had only been lent to them, it was natural for a person to struggle with a sense of loss—that was a human being’s greed.

What’s more, if it’s a man and a woman who’s had relations with each other before.

Carynne wanted Dullan to fight against Raymond.

Prove your love to me. For the sake of ending this.

“The one who needs c-comfort is you.”

“…Yeah. You’re right.”

However, Carynne knew Dullan’s ending.

“But I don’t need it right now.”

She remembered.

He wasn’t the answer either. Her marriage with Dullan was just like that—it provided no answer. Carynne had already gone through many choices before. At least, Carynne could now guess why Dullan so anxiously turned to God after they had gotten married.

It was a violation of the contract, of course. He was a man who had no right to take her away and say that she was his.

She lowered her hand.

“Dullan. I’m breaking off our engagement.”

Dullan’s expression became distorted at that moment. But that was all.

“…Alright.”

Again, he was no fun. If he felt any greed at all for the thing that was given to him yet taken away, then he should stand up and yell out for it. And yet he had no courage to do so and instead only sulked.

This was the attitude of the side character who could not win against the main character. Wanting to complain yet not willing to revolt—it was what a criminal would do as he adapted to the role assigned to him.

Carynne took Dullan’s long, pale fingers. Clasping his hand, which tried to move away, she looked up at Dullan and murmured.

“You know, Dullan. Why didn’t you just die back then?”

She looked into Dullan’s eyes. Her own face was reflected in his black eyes.

Carynne could not read anything from those eyes except for her own features.

“Then I would have been able to live a real life.”

You, too. Me as well.

Dullan’s mouth was no longer open.

* * *

The cold air during dawn cut against her cheek. Carynne walked through the chilly summer meadow. The cold air cleared her head. It was the time of the season that she could enjoy. Here, an early morning walk at daybreak, as she avoided the eyes of others, was something that delighted her. Carynne quite liked this time.

“It’s a little cold.”

“……”

Tom’s clothes were thinner than hers, so Carynne no longer complained. Further into the meadow, there lay the graves of the Hare family. Even as they were under the sun, it felt colder.

“Is it colder because of the graves, or does it actually feel colder than usual?”

Tom tilted his head to the side. Carynne wasn’t waiting for an answer anyway, so she continued forward.

Atop the grave she was looking for was a statue, so it stood out. Once again, she read the name on the tombstone.

“Here lies Catherine, 「 Carynne 」’s… no, maybe my mother.”

Carynne felt sentimental for a moment as she stared at her mother’s grave. She had never visited it all these years. The statue’s hair was made out of bronze, there was a wrinkle of a smile, and it was overall quite elaborately sculpted, but it was white and cold.

No matter how good the artist could make out the likeness of a person, the color of the skin had faded, they were still and unmoving, and the person looked different from the memories of those who knew her.

In the fief lord’s mind, what did Catherine look like?

Carynne touched the statue’s cheek. It was as cold as she had expected. The statue conveyed death’s touch.

“I want to open the casket.”

Tom approached, however the stone tomb that could be moved by only many strong men would barely even budge from the hands of one boy and one girl.

“…Forget it.”

She lay down on the grave. The summer sky was clear and the stars that were still there looked as though they had been poured across the expanse. If she stayed still and stared at the heavens above, those hundreds of millions of blurry stars in the midst of the few bright ones could be seen once more.

A sea of stars. The cold wind on the ground was nothing more than something to make the starlight shine even more. It was a starry dawn.

She was enraptured by the permanence of those stars. They were so beautiful. The sky and the landscape did not change. It had been like this for the last century. Perhaps this world would stay the same in the future as well—this world which was like any other world that’s trapped within a book, so vast and terrifyingly old.

“Mother, it seems you truly have passed on.”

For some reason, Carynne wanted to cry.

“I’m jealous to death.”

Lady Nora Catherine Hare.

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