"How can I help you?"
Love makes people foolish and unable to distinguish the truth from lies in front of them.
Elliot was willing to accept Ilya's favor.
"It's simple. I'm going to give Lady Titonsser an item, and then Lady Titonsser can give it to Rose. Of course, don't say that I gave it to you. Rose doesn't accept gifts from me anymore."
"If you do that, will the Duke be able to retrieve the stolen items?"
Ilya seemed to have concluded that what Eliot wanted back was an object.
He didn't bother to correct her misunderstanding.
"If I can find the item, then Lady Titonsser can finally take Proud as your last name."
The honor and power given by the Proud's name were a temptation that could not be easily resisted.
Ilya nodded determinedly.
"Give it to me. Rose believes in me, so she will easily accept it."
"Okay, I'll be in touch soon."
Elliot paused for a moment and recalled the conversation he had with Ilya from deep in his memory.
The day that Rose was at the Honeywell Manor, when she first went to work at the Imperial Palace. A conversation that Rose had briefly with Ilya as she was leaving for work came to mind.
"The Duke and Rose, actually everyone in the manor, treats me so well, it's just too much."
At that time, Ilya's feelings for Rose were more than just goodwill. After that, the two looked as though they got along splendidly.
Should I ask or not?
After thinking for a while, Elliot decided to ask.
There was a high possibility of Ilya confessing everything to him in her current happiness.
"But there is something I don't understand, Lady Titonsser."
"What is it?"
"I remember that Lady Titonsser and Rose had a good relationship... Was I wrong?"
Ilya didn't answer immediately.
Her behavior made Elliot realize that his prediction was correct.
Just a few days ago, the two were on good terms.
Elliot waited for Ilya, who seemed to be putting her words in order.
Soon after, Ilya struggled with herself before she spoke.
"I think the world is unfair."
"Those who have everything, and those who don't."
"It's not that I hate my father and mother. The two of them love me, and the people of Baron Estate also care for me a lot. However... Living in such a massive estate as the Honeywell Manor is a once-in-a-lifetime dream come true. What a wonderful and colorful life."
"What if I was the daughter of a duke instead of the daughter of a baron? What if I were born with royal blood? Wealth and good looks, respect, and admiration. Even a wonderful lover who cherishes and loves me."
"I can't choose the family I will be born into, but I can choose the position I will have in the future, right? Either as the Marquise or the Duchess. The future is never set in stone, yes? At first, I came to the capital with such a dream. I thought that if I made my debut and set foot in the aristocratic society of the capital, I would become lovers with men of status."
Before Elliot knew how it began, Ilya's voice became stuffy, and her eyes moistened with fresh tears.
"But the reality was not like that. It was fine, though. He was not the heir to the family, but he cared and loved me a lot. No, I believed he loved me."
"But who knew? That the man I thought loved me had another woman in his heart. That's also the person I long for and like. I was just a bridge he used for his confession."
Ilya didn't say who it was, but Elliot grasped the situation at once.
There was a guy she liked, but it turned out that he approached Lady Ilya Titonsser on purpose in order to get closer to Rose.
I thought it was just a common sense of plain greed, but I guess that wasn't all.
Rose was very shy and did not show up to banquets, despite having made her debut early.
Occasionally, if someone heard that Elliot was attending a banquet, she would show up that day, but even then, Rose would often stay in the break room for more than half of the celebrations and then go back.
Still, Rose's appearance was so beautiful that not only men but also women often talked about her beauty.
Elliot was well aware of how popular Rose was with men her age, because there were eyes that followed him, tainted with envy, when he was about to get engaged to Rose.
But even though they didn't have the courage to approach her directly, they used a woman to approach Rose.
Well, with me by Rose's side, who would dare to confess?
Elliot turned his gaze to Ilya, who sat across from him.
He felt sorry for her, who had been taken advantage of by a man she thought she was developing a relationship with, but what she did to Rose was unforgivable.
If Rose died, I wouldn't be able to know everything about her.
Elliot affectionately called Ilya.
"Lady Titonsser. You may have been hurt by that man, but forget it. If I find what was stolen, Lady Titonsser will become a member of the Proud family."
"Then Rose, the man who used Lady Titonsser, and other nobles, everyone will not be able to treat Lady Titonsser badly ever again. You will never have to be anxious to be noticed."
Ilya's sullen expression returned to normal.
Elliot liked the way things were going.
He turned his head and looked out the window.
The season may have been winter, but the winter solstice had passed, and so there was still complete darkness outside the window.
At first glance, the appearance of the Tristan Empire's Imperial Palace engulfed in the light of a red sunset gave the illusion that it was engulfed in flames.
That illusion will soon become a reality.
Elliot slightly raised one corner of his mouth and smiled, then turned his gaze to Ilya.
"It's late now, so I'd better go back. The knight that guided you outside will be there."
Feelings of regret flowed from Ilya's gestures as she stood up, but Elliot pretended not to know and saw her off.
After Ilya left, Elliot sat in his place for a long time.
There was no emotion on his face, but somehow the atmosphere seemed quite pleasant.
"I'll have to go back to the mansion and give a present to Rose through Lady Ilya."
Elliot rose to his feet at the same time that a knock was heard. The person who entered the office was a knight.
He informed Elliot that the emperor was looking for him.
Elliot's expression, which had been in a good mood, hardened slightly, then relaxed. He headed straight for the Imperial Palace.
While walking down the hallway, he caught sight of the Honeywell family's carriage leaving the Imperial Palace grounds through the window he had inadvertently passed.
It seems that the Honeywell siblings and the baron's daughter were going back to the mansion. Elliot watched as the carriage pulled away for a while before turning his head.
I can guess why the Emperor is looking for me.
As he continued on his path, Elliot pondered over Ilya's lies.
Elliot's thoughts led him to ponder over how to explain Ilya's 'innocence' and alibi to Russell, who was suspicious of her motives.
Russell waited for Elliot to arrive.
Not long after he sent the knight out, Elliot came to him. Judging by his attire, it seemed that he called him on his way home from work at the right time.
When Elliot sat down, Russell immediately got to the point.
"Have you talked to Ilya Titonsser?"
"Yes. The owner of the bottle is Lady Ilya Titonsser. She said it was intended to be given to a man who was scheduled to attend the hunting festival."
"Is that it? Then, of course, did Lady Titonsser---"
Russell concluded that it was intentional harm done by Ilya, but Elliot cut him off.
"No. She did nothing wrong. It was just an accident."
When Russell asked him dubiously, Elliot brought up the words he had been preparing.
The words that Ilya had been telling everyone as if they were the truth.
Elliot's voice was smooth, without a single tremble. It was his usual way of reporting to Russell.
Russell's brow narrowed.
"Duke Proud, have you forgotten what you said to me in the carriage? The Duke promised to thoroughly investigate Ilya, whom we know as the culprit. I wonder why Rose, who didn't participate in the hunt, ended up in that position."
My master has a really good memory, to repeat what I said without making a single mistake is just...
But Elliot wasn't surprised.
Wasn't he thinking of an answer to give in reply to what Russell, who remembered everything he said, would say?
"Your Majesty, of course I said that, but at the time, I was too tired and distracted, so I think I gave a vague report about the area where the small game was."
Russell's purple eyes gradually deepen as if trying to understand Elliot's intentions.
"Your Majesty, Lady Titonsser made her royal debut with the support of the Honeywell family. She and Rose were really close and followed each other like sisters."
Elliot made a sad face.
"If I hadn't shown up, something terrible would have happened to Rose, but... Still, it was an accident. Please do not rebuke Lady Titonsser. She was also very surprised."
Russell still had his doubts, but Elliot was not impatient.
As if in a frosty battle, the two did not easily take their eyes off each other.
It was Russell who gave in first.
"Alright, I have faith that the Duke won't lie. You must have been on your way home, so go back. You worked hard today."
"Then I will take my leave."
Elliot saluted before he backed off.
As Elliot grabbed the door handle, Russell called out to him.
Elliot lowered his hand and turned to Russell.
"Yes? Your Majesty?"
"You're not up to something, are you?"
Russell openly criticized Elliot, causing him to smile faintly.
"What could I possibly do? Goodbye, Your Majesty."
Russell crossed his arms and frowned after Elliot stepped out the door.
His head tilted to the side, and at the same time, his silvery hair shook lightly.
"Strange. This is the first time Duke Proud has represented others like that. Even if Lady Titonsser was close to Rose, he wasn't the kind of man who would take care of that relationship and nurture it."
Russell had been tapping his fingertips to the beat of the clock on the wall when he suddenly jumped out of his seat and stood up.
He returned to his desk, sat down, and picked up his stationery and pen.
What he wrote smoothly and effortlessly was a letter to Rose, asking her to come to the Imperial family as soon as her body recovered.
The emperor sealed the envelope with his royal seal and sent it straight to Honeywell Manor.
The attendant disappeared with the envelope containing the letter, as Russell grabbed his pounding head.
It was late in the morning, well past midnight, when Rose woke up.
Contrary to the expectation that she would definitely suffer from the rain, her body was refreshed.
"What...? Didn't I catch a cold? It looks like I've returned to the manor."
Rose got up and turned on the bedside lamp.
A sigh of relief escaped her lips.
Just one day---no, I just wandered around the mountain for a few hours, but it feels like I've suffered for ten years.
"It was a hunt I never wanted to participate in again."
Rose shook her head and rubbed her neck. Her throat was screaming out for moisture.
She lifted the duvet, put her foot down, and slipped into her slippers.
Rose looked down at her legs. Then she lifted her right leg slightly.
When she gave strength to her legs, her ankles moved as she wished.
Seeing that, Rose murmured softly.
"My ankle is all right...?"