I averted my gaze from him and sighed yet again.
Still, Theodore gripped my hand tighter and said,
“Did he not just insult you? How could I just stand there and listen to that? I’m your husband.”
At that moment, I held back the retort that was threatening to come up my throat.
I thought better of it because I knew it was foolish to even say it.
‘Regardless of whether Owen harassed me or said such scathing words towards me, all you did was turn a blind eye to everything.
You may not remember, but that’s how it’s always been.’
How would he react if I were to point this out?
I entertained the thought for a moment, but I soon tossed the idea aside.
…I should just stop here.
It’s all meaningless anyway.
Flicking his hand away, I replied.
“It doesn’t offend me, so there’s no need for you to come forward.
You have no reason to meddle.”
“Meddle…? Lily, just a second.
I started walking away, but Theodore rushed back to my side.
He tried to hold my hand again, but I shook it off once more and walked faster.
As Theodore closed the distance between us in an instant, he grabbed my hand.
I tried to loosen his hold on me with all my might, but this time, he clasped his fingers tighter and wouldn’t let me go.
I glared at him angrily.
The words that I had barely urged down started coming back up, but I reminded myself that a memorial service was about to take place and that this wasn’t the time to have such a childish argument.
With my emotions refusing to subside, I didn’t know what to say to express the extent of what I was feeling.
I bit my lower lip for a moment, but I soon took a deep, slow breath.
Then, I turned away from him and started walking again.
It seemed like Theodore also wasn’t keen on provoking me, and so he kept silent with his lips closed shut.
This cold silence remained throughout the time we walked.
In no time, we arrived at the large hall where the memorial service was to be held.
Everyone’s eyes shifted towards our direction at once.
I didn’t want to be conscious of the fact that my hand was still in Theodore’s, but I couldn’t stop being so aware of this.
I continued to try and staunchly push his hand away.
However, I suddenly came to a realization.
Before I even knew it, my reluctance towards his touch had faded ever so slightly.
This realization brought chills down my spine.
It felt as if my entire body was being frozen.
As I remained stationary at that spot, I heard someone calling out to me.
My head snapped up.
The queen was approaching us, a gentle smile on her lips.
I quickly came to my senses and fashioned a polite smile on my own countenance.
And, I curtsied towards her in a formal manner.
“I greet Your Majesty the Queen.”
Next to the queen were the Crown Princess and Rozenne Delacroix.
I curtsied towards them as well, one after another.
Because of this, I was able to take back my hand from Theodore, but my agitation had yet to subside.
Theodore, in turn, also bowed politely towards the three women.
After lightly accepting his greeting, the queen turned towards me and spoke with a benevolent tone.
“Duchess Valentino, I could finally meet you again.”
It’s always been there, but today as well, there was a sense of kindness within the queen’s eyes.
Of course, she’s always been kind to me, but it seemed as if her gentleness towards me had 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.
Adeline’s father, and also Duke Alvinith.
He was the owner of that voice.
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