“What is it?”
“As a condition for granting me a vacation, His Highness the Crown Prince demanded that I serve as a partner during the vacancy. I thought I should tell you in advance so that you wouldn't misunderstand...”
Iona sighed and looked at Leroy's expression.
He had a face that was hard to read, and she couldn't tell what his reaction was.
The only thing that was certain was that he remained calm and composed, to the point that it was difficult to read him.
After a moment of deep thought, Leroy asked.
“Partner role... Does that mean you'll be going to a ball or something together?”
“I'm not sure. I didn't hear a definitive statement about which event we would attend.”
Leroy quietly put down his spoon on the table.
Iona looked at him and asked.
"Aren't... Aren't you angry?”
"Is there a reason to be angry? It's not like it happened because you wanted it to."
Despite his considerate response, Iona couldn't help but feel a sense of disappointment that she couldn't quite explain.
Perhaps she had secretly hoped that he would feel a little jealous of Richard.
'I know we're not like that, but... …'
Iona lowered her gaze and moistened her lips with water.
She couldn't believe that she was disappointed by something so trivial.
Unlike in the past, since their relationship had become more amicable, she felt a little unsettled.
In her haste to contain her impertinent desires, Iona half-ignored his continued words.
"If we really have to point fingers, it's my fault for provoking the Crown Prince with my foolish actions. I didn't expect things to turn out this way, either."
"But could you let me know ahead of time if there's a set plan? I want to attend the event as well, and I'd like to adjust my schedule accordingly."
“Dame Iona, are you listening?”
Asking that, Leroy stared at Iona.
After a while, Iona noticed his gaze and suddenly raised her head.
She had been so lost in thought that she had completely missed the conversation.
Iona's face turned red with embarrassment since she rarely made such mistakes.
"I'm sorry, what did you say just now?"
“… … I said that I would like to attend the event where you will accompany the prince as a partner.”
"Oh, then I'll let you know as soon as the date is set."
Despite Iona's pleasant answer, Leroy still had a puzzled look on his face.
Leroy looked into Iona's eyes and asked.
“Did something happen with the prince?”
Iona was momentarily hot.
It was because he remembered Richard's request to refrain from private meetings with Leroy.
Even though this was something she had to share with Leroy, Iona couldn't open her mouth easily. Because she didn't want to show an attitude that seemed to give priority to Richard in front of Leroy.
However, it was not something that could be kept hidden, so Iona had no choice but to reveal the truth.
“He told me not to meet the duke in private anymore.”
"So you were planning to meet secretly again today."
"There was a need to handle the mining work secretly, but...yes, to some extent."
Iona answered with a sigh.
Now Iona was in a very halfway position.
Although she was about to marry Leroy, the ceremony was not formally held, and even though she was planning to leave the crown prince, she did not quit her knighthood, and she was planning to seize the county soon, but she was still staying in one family.
In order to solve the problem easily, she couldn't make enemies, so naturally her range of action had to be narrowed.
It was necessary to fool Richard by pretending to be on his side, at least until she secured the title.
However, Leroy seemed to have accepted Iona's prudence a little differently.
He called her with an unfamiliar expression.
"If you're swayed by that man, you can be honest with me."
Iona paused for a moment.
Did he think she hadn't completely abandoned her loyalty to her former lord yet?
Iona protested, putting strength in her voice.
"How could you say that?"
Feeling like her sincerity was being doubted, Iona felt a little unjustly accused.
However, Leroy said as if it were a matter of course.
“It’s my theory that one can’t just ignore the affection they had developed from living together for a long time.”
'I can't ignore the affection I've been with for a long time'.
Iona couldn't deny those words completely. Even though she had left Reichardt, she didn't completely hate him like the people in Modrov did.
However, that didn't mean she wanted to go back to the way things were before.
Holding the knife handle tightly, Iona spoke absentmindedly.
"Of course, I can't just pretend that the past never happened. Even if our relationship has gone bad, it doesn't mean that only bad memories remain. That's why I haven't really thought about killing him...or anything like that."
"Killing him...do you really want to go that far?"
Leroy murmured in confusion, his voice tinged with a faint hint of bewilderment.
Since he did not know her past life, this reaction was embarrassing.
Iona was a person whose age and depth of experience did not match.
It was only natural that those who lived in the present could not understand the emotions she had accumulated towards Richard, which had been building up for ten years.
Iona cleared her throat slightly, thinking that she had inadvertently shown her excessive intentions.
Leroy leaned forward, resting his chin on his right hand as he looked at her intently.
"It seems that your resentment towards the Crown Prince runs deeper than I thought."
"I don't think that's necessarily true."
"But you came to me because you were angry with that man, didn't you?"
"The Crown Prince was foolish, and you were wise. I was lucky. Isn't that right?"
Picking up the cutlery again, Leroy began dismantling the roasted duck in front of him.
He trimmed the meat cleanly and placed it on Iona's plate.
Iona looked down at the white piece of meat and thought for a moment.
When explaining to Leroy why she had betrayed her lord, Iona had used the phrase, 'I learned that the person I was loyal to wasn't worth it.'
Thanks to this, he seemed to think that the crown prince had done something that angered Iona.
Actually, this wasn't even a bad guess.
'It was more of a feeling of helplessness than anger, though.'
Giving up one's life for one's lord was definitely a knight's duty, so she never resented Richard's choice.
But apart from that fact, Richard had always emphasized to her that their relationship was more than master-servant.
On that day, Richard abandoned Iona at death and ran away, abandoning all those personal ties.
Whether as a family member, as a friend, or in any other sense, he did not stay by her side.
So Richard became a person who could no longer have any meaning to Iona. It was because he had told her that himself.
“Duke, I am not angry with Richard. There is no reason to be disappointed and angry at someone who means nothing.”
Iona spoke in a quiet but powerful voice.
“It's been a long time since I gave up all my feelings for the crown prince, whether it be affection or resentment. So there is nothing to be shaken about.”
“I understand roughly what the duke is concerned about. But I will do my best so that you don't have to.”
Hearing Iona's promise, Leroy silently wiped his mouth with the palm of his hand.
Then a long sigh escaped him.
Iona felt a little nervous because he didn't come back with an affirmative answer saying that he knew or believed.
Iona asked, observing his reaction.
“Are you okay?”
"If you're not relieved because it's just words... … .”
"No, it was the perfect answer. You gave me the answer I needed at the moment I needed it, so I just felt a little pathetic."
Only then did Iona feel a little bit of confidence rise.
She trusted him, and he trusted her in return.
They may not have a passionate relationship like other lovers, but she thought that with such trust alone, they could live well enough.
"You said you'll be gone for ten days from now on?"
"Yes, that's right."
"Ten days... it's quite a long time."
Leroy murmured with a strange sense of regret in his voice.