The Countess decides on her course, while Tara's plan hits a snag and she gets an unexpected visitor...
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Episode 236. About 10 months (113)
Goosebumps rose on her skin and she rubbed her bare forearms. Victoria frowned as she stared at the note.
"To go this far… No! There's no turning back now. Yes... I can no longer do anything about it. The heavens are merely telling me that my initial plans were unsatisfactory. Yes, that's it!"
Victoria folded the second note carefully, then recklessly rolled up the hem of her dress, and tucked it deep into the pocket in her undergarments.*
After reading the first note aloud a couple more times, she shredded it and threw it in the trash.
"Yes. I can’t stop now. This is what she deserves for touching me and my son first.”
She muttered the words to herself, as if trying to harden her own resolve.
Victoria came out of the common room and returned to the parlour. She glanced back inside the common room for a moment before closing the door, and briefly gave instructions to the maid standing in front of it.
“Empty the trash can in the break room.”
The maid immediately brought the trash can out of the common room and left the parlour. After a moment, Andrei left the parlour as well, saying he needed a stronger drink.
Navienne Elias's quarters, parlour.
Duchess Helen was sitting in her old friend's parlour and reading a book. It had been a long time since she had attended a banquet, so one might expect her to be tired, but she was feeling rather lively.
After watching the fireworks display in the backyard, she had moved back towards the mansion where she saw Tara.
‘I have that chat with my friends.... Hmm, but I’m feeling quite tired.'
Duchess Helen escaped the crowd and approached Tara, who was talking to a servant holding a flower pot.
[The Countess has been very attentive indeed. Have you been enjoying yourself?]
Tara had greeted her belatedly, with a thoughtful expression on her face, as if she hadn't seen her approach. Helen had tilted her head, sensing the girl's thoughts were elsewhere.
[Yes... Yes, it has been quite wonderful, Duchess Stuart.]
[If time permits, perhaps we could meet for tea... Or not. You must be exhausted after today, so I wish you a pleasant rest.]
Tara's expression had been so serious. Helen had assumed it had been a difficult day for her.
[Yes... Yes, yes. Great... Yes. Thank you, Duchess Stuart.]
Her answer had hung awkwardly in the air, as if she were distracted. Helen had tilted her head once more and headed past Tara towards the mansion.
After taking a few steps, she suddenly stopped when she heard Tara's voice again behind her.
[Excuse me, Grand Duchess, a minute if you please!]
Tara had run up to her.
[Your Grace! Actually I'd very much like that! May I join you for tea as you mentioned earlier? You'll be staying in Grandmother's old rooms tonight, correct?]
[That's right. I'm going to have refreshments with the club members later. But will you be alright? You must be tired.]
Tara's eyes sparkled.
[Well, if you permit it, I'd love to attend. I feel bad that I cannot visit the Stuarts more often because I'm always so busy... Ah. This will have nothing to do with the 8 hours we agreed to meet every month, I'm merely curious about the club meeting... I heard that my grandmother was also a member.]
After seeing Tara's grin, Helen nodded and was suddenly reminded of the past.
‘Oh... There’s something...'
That’s right. The atmosphere she had felt from Tara at that moment reminded her of their first meeting.
The expression Tara had made when they sat down in the parlour, right before she offered Helen those three matches. That look...
[You say you are quite busy... Are you perhaps planning something?]
She had believed the girl would deny it or wave the question away. However, instead, the spirited child accepted her question and answered her.
[Yes, Grand Duchess! I have my reasons to spend time with you. May I explain myself later?]
Helen had been feeling quite tired. However, Tara's answer had shot energy into her veins and brought light into her eyes.
[Hohohohoho, yes, yes. I'll be waiting patiently!]
After hiding his aurore, Kyle swiftly jumped over the high walls of the mansion, then went straight towards the back pathway.
Kyle found it easy to stay away from watchful eyes because he had used his previous stay in the annex as an excuse to look around the Elias family property.
When Kyle had been there, he had taken walks around this time. Tonight, the mansion was bright and noisy, even after midnight, and showed no indication of calming down.
Kyle recalled the blueprints for the interior of the estate and estimated the location of Tara's room. The third room at the end, on the third floor.
He had been reading reports about her sent from his people in House Elias for a long time, so the location of her room had been naturally catalogued in his memory.
‘...She might think I'm some kind of thief.'
Kyle wasn't even conscious of doing such strange things anymore, probably because these days he often found himself acting out of character.
He approached the part of the building where the end of the third floor and Tara's room was likely to be located, and searched for a sign of her.
Since Tara's own energy was mixed with his aurore, Kyle could find her even with his eyes closed. He grinned delightedly and moved briskly into the garden, a short distance from the mansion. Fortunately, there was no light there.
There was a beautiful tree nearby that was capable of concealing him, so he climbed up it, found a perch and looked towards her room. A dim light leaked out her window.
If she was sleeping, he would protect her from here.
He never would have considered doing anything like this in the past, but he didn't think it was strange.
Because now he knew how agonizing it would be if anything were to ever happen to her. Hadn't he already experienced that very pain at Reese castle?
On the other hand, he wanted to know how prepared she was. If she was awake she would have likely received Toby's message.
But he sensed another unexpected presence in her room.
The energy was strong. A man. In particular, it was the kind of the aura knights typically exuded, and it made Kyle wary.
"Is it her dedicated knight? Or?"
Had it been any other night, he would have just observed. It was her very private personal space after all. But tonight was different.
Today he had learned about Victoria hiring men at Donnie's Gambling House. She was alone in her room with a man at this time of night. Tonight Kyle had little choice in the matter.
The only way he could assure himself of her safety was to see it with his own eyes.
Kyle hid his aurore as best he could, kicked off the tree and jumped straight up.
When Bernard went to speak to the knights, they were having a serious drinking party. There wasn't a single clear head among them. He heard that the alcohol had been provided by the Countess so they could celebrate the Lady's birthday.
It was late at night, so the night crew should have been on guard around the fence surrounding the estate, but when he went to the guard postings, the number of night shift guards was smaller than usual.
Come to think of it, a few days ago, the Philippe family had requested support from some of the Elias knights, as they had a history of doing. So naturally, the total number of personnel had been reduced. And of course some of the night shift personnel had been taken.
Bernard hurried to his Master's room with a sense of frustration.
Fortunately, his Master had already changed into a maid's uniform and was just about to leave the room when he found her.
"Since there are no other personnel available, I'll do it alone."
Bernard told me about how alcohol and food had been provided to the knights quarters on the Countess's orders. I couldn't help but frown severely when he explained how a large contingent of knights had been transferred at the request of House Philippe.
"Hmm… That's quite thorough of her. There's nothing that can be done. In that case I...!”
"I'll go with you."
"Oh my goodness!"
I twisted around to face the source of the sudden sound, and Bernard pushed himself in front of me, protecting me.
"Who are you?"
A person was leaning against the edge of the balcony with his arms crossed. His face was completely indistinguishable, because the hood of his black robe had been pulled down over his features, but the smile on his lips was all too familiar.
‘Oh, my God... No way, when did he get back from the South...?’
It was Kyle.
“I didn’t know it was your knight who was here… May I come in?" He pulled away from the wall, and lowered the hood. But he didn't move any closer, instead he stared at me as if waiting for permission.
I had never considered this possibility because I had assumed he wouldn't be able to make it.
Or rather, I had chosen to be rational about it. I had considered it in terms like, 'Maybe,' 'Hopefully,' and 'Possibly'. But I had given up, because the rumours he was dealing with were serious and the South was a long distance away.
Besides, I hadn't even told him it was my birthday today.
Maybe he wanted to see me. He shrugged his shoulders, and the sight made my heart suddenly beat faster.
“… Please contact me in advance next time, Your Highness. Come on in." Despite my fluttering heart, my words were inexplicably brusque.
"I'll make sure to do that next time we meet. Tell me about the plan."
Kyle strode into my room as soon as he received my permission.
I couldn't help but stare, and Bernard looked similarly stricken.
Then Bernard executed a quick bow in greeting, "Your Highness, Future of the…!"
“It's all right. We don't have time. Please start by explaining what needs to be done.”
Kyle's words brought me back to my senses and I sat on the sofa. Kyle sat directly across from me so we were face to face.
Bernard still didn't seem to comprehend the situation, so he kept staring blankly at me and Kyle.
His expression said, ‘Why was the Second Prince of the Empire standing on his personal aide's bedroom balcony? On her birthday...?'
I quickly explained the plan to Kyle. After listening intently, he looked at me and gave a short nod.
"Yes. There’s a high probability they'll move at dawn. It's a good strategy made on short notice. Well done, Tara."
The explanation had taken less than 5 minutes, and Bernard had watched us stupidly the entire time. But the moment Kyle called me 'Tara', his head turned towards me.
His eyes begged me for an explanation.
It couldn't be helped. I had no choice but to tell him, Bernard was my only dedicated knight and he would be with me for the rest of my life.
Hadn’t Bernard told me multiple times that he could protect me best if he knew everything about me?
"It was possibility number three."
“I'm saying that I'm not like the dog.”**
Kyle watched the exchange as if he found my explanation fascinating.
Bernard also didn't seem to know what my explanation meant. After repeating the words to himself a few times, he finally understood and his eyes widened. I had never seen him so wide-eyed before.
He stuttered, unable to articulate his answer, until he finally managed to get the words out. "Wha- What you're saying is... T- The Light of the Empire... No. The Second Prince!...No. His Highness likes you...!?"
“Can I tell him? Bernard should know everything about me.”
"Well, it doesn't matter to me. Does that mean I can finally hug you now?"
Heat instantly blossomed on my face.
Bernard coughed loudly beside me 'Ahem!'. I slowly nodded.
Kyle strode to me and pulled me tightly into his arms until I was crushed up against him. He whispered to me, softly enough that only I could hear.
“I want to kiss you too, but I'll hold myself back.”
My God. This man! And the way he said what he wanted!
My face felt so hot I thought I was about to spontaneously combust at any moment.
Kyle let me go, and within seconds it was as if he had never hugged me in the first place.
"I'll check out the South annex, Bernard, you go to the North annex. Tara, it’s your move."
Kyle squeezed my hand once and headed for the balcony. Bernard turned his head like a broken robot, only moving to leave after Kyle called after him again.
However, Bernard also threw me some meaningful parting words before he left. “Milady! You and I are going to have a long conversation when this is over! Do you understand?"
I nodded and walked out of the room without answering.
Editor’s Notes -
I probably set a speed record when I edited this chapter, because I was having so much fun with it. Squeeeee! He's back! And Bernard's reaction is hilarious.
* Fun fact - In the 18th century women had removable pockets they wore under their overdresses like this. It’s only us modern ladies who chronically suffer from a lack of storage space in our clothing. So no, Victoria probably isn’t shoving that note in a corset or one of her unmentionables.
** This is a callback to a conversation that happened waaayy back in chapter 58 of the manhwa (chapter 88 of the novel, currently untranslated). This is referencing the scene after Tara gets poisoned where she presents 3 possible reasons why Kyle might have helped her. The 'third possibility' Tara comes up with as to why Kyle helped her was that he did it because he was in love with her (which turns out to be true!). In that same chapter, Bernard suggests that Kyle probably just helped Tara because he felt the same kind of empathy towards a poisoned Tara that anyone would feel towards an injured dog on the street, because he didn't believe Kyle actually cared for Tara. So when Tara says 'I'm not a like the dog' she's basically telling Bernard that his theory about why Kyle helped her back then is wrong.
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