grown deeper.

“How are you feeling? We were so very surprised to see you collapse like that.
It was as if Duke Valentino had turned into a complete madman.
I don’t even know how long he kept calling your name… Oh, I’ve never seen the Duke be so shaken.”

Hearing the queen say this was almost enough to harden my expression.
That’s something I didn’t need to hear right now.
I don’t want to hear just how much Theodore was apparently worried about me.

As I barely maintained my polite expression, I answered the queen.

“I’m doing alright, Your Majesty.
Thank you very much for your concern.”

“…Yes, it is as you say.
But Duchess, you don’t look very well.
It would be better if your condition improves.”

Still smiling, the queen raised a hand to beckon someone closer.
An attendant stepped quickly forward and held something out politely towards her.

On a gold-threaded blue velvet cushion, a red coral bracelet lay.
It was supposed to be the prize for the winner of today’s hunting party.

“The hunting party’s winner couldn’t be decided on, but there is only one person deserving of this bracelet after having done more than anyone else.
…Of course, it’s none other than you, Duchess Valentino.”

Neither tension nor confusion could be seen from the people inside the hall.
It seemed like it had already been announced in advance.

Even so, this didn’t mean that everyone was in favor of this.

For example, some distance away, there was Adeline.
She was clearly smiling with her lips, but even from afar, I could feel her sharp gaze.

Then, there was also Hessen, who was scowling to the fullest.

Hessen wasn’t there before, but perhaps he entered the hall after Owen and I had left.

“For saving myself, the Crown Princess and many others, thank you.”

Queen Ellemiel took the bracelet from the cushion and fastened it directly onto my wrist.

To express my humble acceptance, I curtsied towards the queen and bowed deeply.
The red coral of the bracelet, which gave off an exotic charm, shone with a smooth shimmer.

“…From the bottom of my heart, I convey my deepest gratitude for your kindness, Your Majesty.”

Truthfully, it would be more accurate to say that the one who had saved the queen and the others was the spirit of the Ashridge Forest.
But considering the current atmosphere, it would be better if I just courteously accepted the reward.

The crowd cheered and applauded.
Very briefly, the atmosphere of the memorial service brightened.
Even so, as with anything else, a corresponding reaction would arise.

And sure enough, someone broached the subject through one astute question.

“But… How had it been possible for Duchess Valentino to communicate with the spirit of the forest? As far as it’s known, Her Grace has no spiritual sensitivity at all, but with today’s incident…”

Despite the clear mood in this hall, that voice did not hide its sentiments of opposition.

Without a change in my disposition, I turned towards the direction of where that voice came from.
A familiar face came into view.

Norbert Alvinith.
Adeline’s father, and also Duke Alvinith.

He was the owner of that voice.

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