Elliot returned to his private office and got ready for work.
As if he'd felt anxious during his time in the mountains without realizing it, the tension in his bones released as the fatigue set in.
After changing into the extra clothes provided in the office, he put on his coat.
At the same time, a knock was heard at the office door.
“Who is it?”
“Commander-in-chief, an Ilya Titonsser has come to visit you.”
Elliot's hand, which had been buttoning his coat, hesitated.
…Has Ilya Titonsser come to visit me?
“…Let her in.”
After having received the permission of his master, the door opened, and Ilya entered the office.
Duke Proud stood still and waited for Ilya to bring up the purpose of her visit.
However, Ilya just stood there blankly and didn't take the initiative to utter the first word.
In the end, Elliot spoke first.
“What is the purpose of coming to me?”
“He told me to go find the Duke.”
“Visit me? Who has told you this?”
“His Majesty? There is no way, regarding that matter, His Majesty directly—“
Elliot abruptly cut himself off mid-sentence.
He rapidly racked his brain to figure out the situation and the next course of action.
“I'll go to Honeywell's.”
After saying that, Russell left first.
If Elliot had correctly grasped his intentions, it would have meant that Russell would have a conversation with Ilya himself.
The intention must have been right, so then why did you send Ilya Titonsser to me?
The duke guided the baron's daughter to the couch without stopping to think.
“Let's sit down for now.”
Ilya seated herself in the guest seat as she waited for Elliot to speak with an innocent look on her face.
From her expression, she seemed completely oblivious to what had happened to Rose.
Elliot looked at Ilya and found himself lucky.
“Rose was found in the mountains, in an area deep enough that even the lords attending the hunting festival would not dare set foot there.”
In Elliot's pocket was a vial of pheromones he and Rose found.
Conveniently, he left the vial out of the story.
After listening to his retelling, Ilya's shoulders drooped.
“Yes, it's all because I couldn't take Rose.
When the beast appeared, I should have escaped with her somehow…
I'm sorry, Duke.”
The Young Lord of the Proud family stared at Ilya, who was stealing peeks at him.
There was no trembling in her voice or in her gestures.
Either the story she spat out was the truth, or she was very good at lying.
“It was Rose who was in danger, so I don't know why you're apologizing to me.”
“Yes, but Rose is the person who will become the duke's fiancée.”
“What do you…? That's not important.
In fact, I was the first to spot Rose on the mountain.
Ilya's shoulders trembled for a very brief moment.
Elliot continued without missing a single subtle change in her responses.
“I was very lucky.
She had been on the verge of being eaten.”
“…I'm really glad the Duke saved Rose.”
“Ah, it truly was a good thing I was there, but there is something strange about how the events led up to that moment.”
Ilya had only been looking at the hand on her lap when she finally met Elliot's eyes.
He took a bottle from his pocket.
“I found this in the spot where I found Rose.”
Ilya's eyes widened.
It was a reaction that made hiding any other emotions useless.
Elliot waited for the baron's daughter's next move.
However, her reaction was unexpected.
Ilya immediately covered her mouth with both hands.
Her voice trembled with fear.
Is that why the beast appeared?”
“I can't say that it wasn't because of this.”
“Then it's all because of me.”
Elliot said nothing.
…No, you're still pretending.
What you say might have some truth in it, but the meaning behind the way you say it drastically distorts the truth.
He waited for Ilya to continue.
“I got this vial from a young lady I met at the tea party today.
There's someone I've been seeing lately whom I asked if he could accept it since he wanted to catch various game during the hunt.
The lady readily gave it to me.”
Up to this point, her story coincided with the testimony of the original owner of the bottle.
“But I couldn't tell you where he is because he didn't attend the hunting festival today.
So, I went to see a small game with Rose, and I fell down while looking around, and it must have spilled at that time—Oh no! I had no idea.
It's because of me that Rose went through such a terrifying experience!”
Before Elliot knew it, Ilya's eyes started to moisten, and thick tears dripped down her delicate cheeks.
Seeing her like that, Elliot applauded inwardly.
Indeed, if she had not been the daughter of an aristocrat, Elliot would have asked if she would seriously consider becoming an actress in a theater company in their empire.
Elliot turned the bottle around in his hand.
His expression was overflowing with composure, as if he were contemplating how to cook freshly caught prey.
Soon after, he set the small bottle down on the table which made a soft sound.
At that sound, Ilya's eyes turned to Elliot abruptly, tears still welled up in her emerald green eyes.
Seeing that, Elliot smiled.
“The lie is almost perfect.”
“What? It's not a—“
“If you were going to lie perfectly, you should have been familiar with the topography of the mountain where the hunting event takes place.”
“What is that…”
The tears in Ilya's eyes finally stopped dripping.
The innocent face that aroused sympathy also hardened before his very eyes.
Elliot watched the change with interest and brought to light the loopholes in Ilya's lies.
“Young Lady Titonsser seems to have no sense of the area because she was searching for a small game.
Although they are prey, they are actually just a spectacle.
Unlike the hunting that uses half of the mountain, the place where small animals are gathered is very small.”
“But where I found Rose and this bottle…
It's in the middle of a mountain where ferocious predators come and go.”
Ilya bit her lower lip and said nothing.
No excuses or pleas.
“What if I told this to the Duke of Honeywell or to His Majesty? Young Lady Titonsser is now under the patronage of the Honeywell family, right? What would happen if he finds out that you've harmed his one and only beloved sister.”
Only then did Ilya, who had stood firm, collapse.
Her knees sank to the floor.
“Duke Honeywell…?! No, please don't tell anyone! Without the patronage of the Honeywell family, I must return to the Titonsser Estate.
No! It's not enough.
Our family might even be at a disadvantage.”
Why would you do such a thing if you were afraid? You're from a small family, but you did a good job.
If it was a son who disgraced the family name, in aristocratic society, women's actions were often criticized more than men's.
Russell and Wells would not leave Ilya alone after getting Rose, the person whom they deeply cared for, nearly killed.
Wells being Wells, he might go easy on Ilya.
But if it were Russell, he might even wipe the Titonsser estate off the map, instead of dealing only with the Titonsser family.
“If the Titonsser family is at a disadvantage, I may not be able to set foot in the capital.
Please! I hate that.
I don't want…”
Elliot's eyes widened.
Perhaps he had heard wrongly.
He stared at Ilya without saying anything.
He didn't ask again, but she didn't need to wait for him.
“I don't want to go back to the country estate.
Even if I die, I will die in the capital.
Even if I perish, I want to perish as an aristocrat in the capital.”
Elliot swallowed a laugh.
It's not the family bloodline that's the problem.
It's the question of whether you'll perish.
When Elliot didn't say anything, Ilya raised her head fiercely.
“If the Duke will turn a blind eye to this, I will do anything I can to help him.”
“What can you help me with? Well, I can do anything even without Lady Titonsser.”
“Uh, I can still help.
I wonder if I can help the Duke and Rose get engaged and married.”
Illya smiled as if she had finally gained the upper hand.
The hand wasn't particularly important to Elliot, but he was willing to accept it.
“Good, I haven't explained the situation in detail to His Majesty either, so if I keep my mouth shut, everything will go according to Lady Titonsser's lies.
Even if Rose knew the truth, she is cowardly and would not pursue you.”
Will it play out like that? Would Rose be scared?
Elliot secretly questioned himself.
In the past, he would have thought that Rose was a cowardly woman who couldn't do anything on her own.
However, there were changes in her character that began a few months ago.
Is it enough to question whether she is still a coward?
Elliot shrugged before he could think of an answer.
Even if Rose told everyone about Ilya's lie, there would be no disadvantage for him.
Because only Ilya tried to cover up the situation with lies, he did not play a part in her deception.
Elliot invited Ilya to sit on the couch in the office.
As she sat down, he confided part of his plan to Ilya.
“Actually, I don't care if I'm not engaged to Rose.”
Didn't the Duke love Rose?”
Did I look like I loved Rose? Hmm, I've been trying to look like that lately.”
“Then why do you want to get engaged to Rose?”
“There is something to be received when I do.”
“Do you need me to get it for you?”
Elliot rested his arm on the armrest of the couch and rested his chin there.
How much of my plan should I tell her? How should I use this child, who is purely greedy for power, for my plans?
Elliot was deep in thought with his eyes closed when he felt Ilya's stare piercing into him.
His cryptic words must have aroused her curiosity.
Elliot leaned over to her.
“A long time ago, something happened, and now, I'm missing something.
We need Rose to get it back.
So I got engaged to her and tried to get back what had been taken from me.
Once I got that back, I would have broken off the engagement or divorced Rose.
Whatever worked out best.”
“Can I ask what was stolen?”
Elliot shook his head.
“I can't tell you that because it is very precious to me, but if Lady Titonsser would help me, I wouldn't have to go through the arduous engagement ceremony with Rose.”
Elliot's hand reached out to the baron's daughter.
His long fingers, imprinted with calluses from years of swordsmanship training, lightly touched Ilya's light brown hair.
Ilya's heart fluttered at the gesture.
She wanted to get closer but Elliot, indifferently, quickly withdrew his hand.
“If Lady Titonsser would stay by Rose's side and help me so I could get it back…”
Elliot deliberately trailed off in the end.
Distracted by his touch, Ilya focused solely on his voice.
He spoke loud enough that Ilya could hear him properly, but enticed her with sweet words.
“I'll let you become the wife of the only duke in the empire.”
“I want Lady Titonsser to be the hostess of the Proud family.”
Elliot's voice was sugar-coated.
[TL/N: Meaning that it was pleasing to the ear but not necessarily good for you or in your favor.]
His voice was sweet and inviting, so it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say she felt cherished.
However, for Ilya who only came of age that year, had never met a man who could only appear in children's books.
Because of her lack of experience with men straight out of a fantasy, it wasn't a surprise that Elliot took her heart in an instant.
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