Owen was at a loss, unsure of how to approach Lia as she sat on the floor, surrounded by the letters she had sent to the Louvre during the war. “Miss, this is…” he began, but Lia interrupted him.
“These are the things I sent to the Louvre during the war… But why are they here? Did the Duke stop them? Is that why my letters didn’t get through to the Louvre all this time?”
“No, Miss. It wasn’t the master’s doing. Even the Duke was troubled to receive them. Please believe me,” Owen pleaded.
“Then why didn’t you tell me? Why did you…” Lia’s voice trailed off as she shouted in frustration. She took out the letters one by one from the box, some already reduced to ashes.
“Canillia,” Claude’s voice interrupted Lia’s despair. He stood before her, his cold gaze fixed upon her, dressed in a perfect-fitting lounge suit.
“Please explain to me. You knew about this. You know how much I worked on these letters,” Lia said to Claude.
“Lia, get up,” Claude said, attempting to lift her from the ground.
“Don’t touch me!” Lia sharply refused, pushing his hand away. She stood up tremblingly, but Claude blocked her way with a desperate look.
“At that time, everything entering the Louvre was being censored. That’s why Rosina was keeping your letters separately, for safety… There was nothing else we could do,” Claude explained.
“Well, you should have at least told me. If you knew I was writing letters, you could have just told me to stop. I didn’t even know…!” Lia exclaimed, her frustration evident. She had waited for a reply every day and occasionally hugged the returned letters, crying. She couldn’t continue the conversation any longer, unsure of what emotion to define this as – anger, disappointment, bewilderment, annoyance, disgust…?
She tried to understand the situation, but it was difficult. Louvre was a dangerous area during the war, and she expected that her letters might not be fully delivered. But she didn’t know that someone intentionally separated her and her mother. If her letters had been delivered to her mother, she wouldn’t have had to enter Louvre through Sharon’s wardrobe, and Claude wouldn’t have shot the woman. Above all, she might not have sent her mother to Geore.
“Rosina wanted to return them to you. But I couldn’t…” Claude’s voice was hoarse, as if it was submerged in water.
“But how could you burn them?” Lia asked, approaching him with wide-open eyes. Her eyes were distorted with misery, and tears threatened to fall. But she clenched her fists and held back everything.
“Miss, it was my fault. I tried to burn the letters because I felt sorry for the master, who was struggling with them,” Owen said, kneeling down in front of Lia.
Lia put her hand on her forehead and turned her head. She felt confused and didn’t know who to blame. As she looked at the painting on the wall, she tried to calm herself down. She didn’t want to say anything she didn’t mean.
“This… seems to be the way of the nobles that my mother talked about. They focus only on outward perfection and lose the most important things,” she said, recalling her mother’s words.
“I will explain it in detail,” Claude said, reaching out to embrace her.
“No, please don’t,” Lia replied, stepping back and looking at his collar before walking away. She picked up the book that Owen had dropped and walked past the silent Claude, feeling suffocated by the heavy atmosphere in the room.
As she walked, she thought about how the nobles didn’t associate with those from Louvre, regardless of divine right. Her mind was muddled with anxiety, and she felt like she was suffocating in the air in the study.
When she opened the door, Pepe was standing there looking worried, with an expression that seemed like she might cry at any moment.
“I think I need to freshen up a bit, Pepe,” Lia said in a trembling voice. Tears formed at the tip of her smiling chin, falling off like jewels.
Lia wiped her tears with the back of her hand and looked at Claude, who was still standing in front of the fireplace.
“I’ll fix my makeup… and come back.”
Canillia returned to her room without any regrets. After hearing the sound of the door closing in the distance, Claude’s pupils moved.
“Get up, Owen.”
He glanced at Owen indifferently, then picked up the bundle of letters scattered on the ground. Blood rushed to his clenched fist.
“Why did you try to burn them?”
The duke’s voice remained calm as ever, as if spoken by someone who had suppressed their emotions. Then, Claude turned his expressionless face and asked again.
“Owen, answer me.”
“I overheard a conversation between the madam and the master. I thought it would cause more trouble, so I tried to destroy the letters myself,” Owen said, his voice shaking.
Claude picked up the box containing the letter and placed it on his desk. He couldn’t deny that he was at fault for not returning it earlier. It was bound to happen someday.
“In the end…” Claude trailed off, his eyes fixed on the illuminated garden below. The suffocating feeling that had been building inside him grew stronger as he thought of her. She was there, silent and trapped, unable to cry or scream.
Claude couldn’t take it anymore. He punched the wall next to the window with all his might. His large fist trembled and eventually lost its strength, falling down. The intangible force that had been choking his throat had finally found a release.