Missing snippet the morning after the ball:
"Raven, has Lydia come yet?"
"......I wonder if she'll come."
"Mr. Nico's having tea in her office, so she should be here shortly."
Ahh, tea. That cat likes tea. But the butler and Raven both serve him tea as though it were only natural.
"Come to think of it, Raven, I've been wondering, why do you use "Mr." for a cat?"
"Is he a cat?" Raven asked uncertainly.
"He's not a cat?"
"Since you sometimes speak to him, I was under the impression he wasn't."
Thinking things over again, Edgar started to feel unsure.
"There are times when it seems that we're having an actual conversation... Not to mention he does things like picking up tea cups and drinking tea......"
Well, it didn't matter.
Ever since he'd come to know Lydia, her strange reality seems to have been creeping into Edgar's. Just last night, a pure black horse disappeared into the fountain.
That's right. That horse was the fairy that had proposed to Lydia. Edgar felt that he really didn't want to lose to a horse.
The next morning:
"Good morning, Lydia."
The instant she saw Edgar's face, Lydia felt her face go hot and quickly looked down. She covered her face by pretending to read the letter she'd opened.
"......What is it? I'm a bit busy right now."
"Your letter's upside down."
Edgar took the letter from a flustered Lydia and looked down at her.
"Paul's here. It seems that helping him will be your job."
It was rare to have Edgar to get right down to business without his lavishing her with compliments and flattery to the point of becoming annoying.
Lydia felt both a touch of disappointment while at the same time feeling relieved. She finally looked up. She'd been afraid of how she'd react if he were to have brought up what had happened yesterday. Given how he was acting, he might not be aware of her own inner turmoil.
"Ah, oh, I see. I was just talking to Marigold about him."
"Apparently he'd been accosted at his rooming house and told to return the ring."
"Eh? By whom?"
"Probably Mr. Cain"
Aah, that Kelpie. Talk about persistent!
"Apparently, Paul had a dream about being attacked by a horse which disappeared when he threw the Bible he keeps by his pillow at it."
"Most likely, that wasn't a dream."
"In any case, the horse said he'll come back as often as it takes to get the ring back. Mr. Ferman can't bear the thought of these nightmares continuing because of that ring. He's sure the ring is cursed. And well, since Mr. Cain seemed to have come to pay you and I a visit, Paul wanted to get our advice. Shall I call for him?"
"Yes, of course. It's my fault he got caught up in all this."
Why won't it come off:
Even though she'd taken the form of a young girl, she'd forgotten to hide her wings. However, neither Edgar nor Paul seemed to notice, or at least, if they did, they didn't mention anything and stared at the ring instead.
"Most likely you wouldn't get tired of staring at it night after night. If you think about it Paul, you're very lucky."
Edgar's comment made it clear that it wasn't his problem.
"I'm not lucky at all."
"So, why won't it come off?"
"Because Kelpie forced it on him. The ring part's a bit bent and is biting into Paul's finger," Lydia answered.
"Um, Cain's a kelpie."
Edgar's non-committal response showed he probably didn't know what that was was.
"H-he's a kelpie?! You mean the ones that are said to eat people......?" Paul almost shrieked in reply. Perhaps not so surprising since he did specialise in painting the Fae.
But Edgar took it all calmly.
"So, he's a man-eating horse."
"They'll also eat livestock, but they always leave the liver on the shore."
"That's very much their loss. Foie gras is lovely after all."
"Rather than that, what am I supposed......"
Paul desperately brought the conversation back on topic.
"In any case, let's get the ring off."
"I tried a number of things but it's impossible. I even tried using soap and oil."
"We might just have to cut the ring off. If we're very careful, we should be able to avoid injuring your precious hand."
"That's out of the question! If you were to damage the Queen's ring, I'll never be able to go back!"
Marigold burst into tears.
"That would be terrible. Let's think of something else."
Edgar instantly took her side.
"Is there another way?"
"If his finger were to become slimmer it'll come off, right? All we need to do is get Paul to lose weight."
Have him lose weight? But he wasn't exactly overweight to begin with.
"It will probably come off if he doesn't eat anything for a week."
"F-for a whole week?!"
"And if it doesn't come off, continue for another week."
Paul looked like he was about to cry.
"It's okay. People can live for quite a while even after they've become nothing but skin and bones."
Edgar didn't speak jokingly but in a matter-of-fact manner. Paul slumped as though he were a prisoner who'd just been handed his sentence.
"Lydia, while I love having you stare at me, I wish you wouldn't frown when doing so."
Apparently, Lydia had been staring at Edgar so hard it was as though she was glaring at him.
"Eh, ah, I was just thinking about something......"
"If it's about me, you don't need to think about things like that. I'll tell you everything you want to know."
Surprisingly, Edgar was at home that day at noon, so Edgar and Lydia were having lunch together. The two were alone on the sunlit terrace. Paul was doing what he could to lose weight, and fortunately, he was the type to often forget about meals when his current project was going well. Even though he said he'd come and have a little something to eat when asked, he has yet to appear.
So right now, Lydia was alone with Edgar. When she thought about it, it was the first time for her to speak to him alone since the ball. Lydia couldn't help suddenly feeling nervous.
"Were you sickly as a child?"
Since she was trying to hide how she was feeling, she ended up blurting out what she'd been thinking about.
"Yeah," Edgar responded readily. "I had asthma and was kept at home. I got over it around when I was ten, but my mother was the anxious type. It was very rare for me to meet the guests who visited the manor house.
"So that's why almost no one in society knows who you were."
"Most likely, save one person."
That one person was Paul. It seemed he realised that Lydia bringing up the subject so suddenly was probably because of something Paul had said.
"But you must have had lots of servants, right? Like tutors?"
"The tutors and senior household servants, anyone that was in close contact with the family are all dead. Those who survived probably don't know what I look like."
In other words, unlike senior ranked servants like butlers, housekeepers, handmaidens, stewards, and coachmen, he meant those servants out of the hundreds in such a residence that would have no opportunity to see the family members.
"And even if there were any who remembered that boy, no one would think I were him. He has his own grave. And there's even a body in it, although I don't know whose. Well, it's not like I actually opened the coffin and saw for myself, but it's a child's body that's burnt beyond recognition," he said deliberately trying to faze Lydia. He calmly had a bite of roast chicken.
Lydia instantly lost her appetite and put down her knife and fork, but refused to be beaten so easily.
"Apparently, he doesn't think you're the same person because your personality is so different from that boy's. At the very least, you didn't used to be so aggressive and overbearing or have such poor taste in making fun of people, right?"
Edgar picked up his glass and gazed at his reflection.
"True. I can't help thinking that myself. Too much has happened. So much so that I can't help wondering if I really am the same person as that boy.
His family had suddenly been killed and he'd been taken away to a foreign country. Lydia didn't know why the person known as the Prince took Edgar or how he treated him, but he'd robbed Edgar of his freedom and will and made him a slave. And until he and Raven, who was also enslaved there, as well the others who felt as he did were able to escape from there, Edgar had had to learn such things as hiding his true feelings behind a mask, cool decision-making, and the cold-heartedness necessary to be able to fight through danger. Even after escaping, they'd had to avoid pursuers by hiding in the slums of society, use tactics and struggle to gain a foothold in society...... Most likely it had been a battlefield with death always close at hand.
It would been impossible for him to have remained an innocent young nobleman.
Since they had no one's help, he changed himself, survived, and was now protecting Raven.
"But, even though I don't know what you were like before, I don't hate who you are now."
"......You really are......"
He started to stay something but suddenly fell silent. He smiled softly.
While Lydia couldn't understand Edgar's true self at all, she felt relieved to see he was able to smile so happily. While he may have changed, most likely parts of him haven't changed.
Regardless how good an actor a person was, someone who didn't know peaceful contentment couldn't smile the way he was now. That's why Lydia couldn't see Edgar as just a villain and why she wanted to help him regain a peaceful lifestyle. She wanted him to continue living as Earl Ashenbert and to give up his hatred of the Prince.
"Obviously a person's better than a horse."
"I told you, I'm not a horse! Oy, Lydia, make your choice, either me or this guy."
Choose? Between a man-eating fae or a former thief and womanizer; not exactly the best of choices!
Edgar and Lydia:
"You're good with cats."
"I also have confidence in my way with women."
Hm? He's about to start again?
The major blitzes of sweet-talking that had died down lately. But before Lydia could realise her danger, Edgar stood before her blocking her from leaving for home. He was looking down from directly above her. His stance said it all; he was definitely about to begin again.
Why? Hadn't he gotten tired of it?
"There's no need for you to work late with Paul. If you're late getting home, Professor Carlton will worry."
"Yes, but I also lost track of time today."
"Was it that much fun?"
"......Well, he talks about many things so I don't get bored."
"What, for example?"
He's asking a lot of questions.
"Most of it's about pictures. It doesn't really matter what we talk about, right?"
Apparently Edgar noticed the card Lydia was holding.
Hiding it would be strange, so she held it up for him to see.
"Mr. Paul gave it to me as thanks for modelling for him."
It was an ink wash drawing of an iris. Paul's sure lines captured the vitality of the flower clearly. And even though it was a card, it was an enchanting picture.
"An iris. In the language of flowers, it means a message of love. It's a love letter to you."
"Surely not. That flower just happened to be nearby."
"And if you're wrong? What will you do then?"
What will I do? You mean in response?
But I accepted it happily like I always do.
"So, it doesn't make you cry when he makes advances."
Eh? What does he mean......?
Lydia felt her face grow hot even before she realised what he was talking about.
He had noticed. That time at the ball.
"I've been thinking but I can't figure out why I made you cry. Did I say something to hurt you? But why? When?"
Lydia herself didn't know why either. But for some reason, things had suddenly became very uncomfortable and difficult for her.
She didn't like having her feelings getting mixed up because of Edgar's whim. And because it annoyed her, she took to the offensive.
"It doesn't matter who I come to love. You'll withdraw, right?"
"That was a lie."
"I was just putting on airs, but it's not how I really feel."
"You lie so easily; that's why I don't trust you."
"True. Just how often have I lied to you all this time."
"Enough. Please move."
He ignored her, however, and continued to block her path.
"But you've always forgiven me. Since the very start. Even when you found out I was a robber, you forgave me for trying to fool you. And because you're like that, I want to have you by my side. The crimes I've committed will never go away, but as long as you don't abandon me, I feel like maybe I can go on living and calling myself Earl.
He was speaking so seriously that Lydia felt her heart skip a beat.
"You know the good-for-nothing parts to me. But you also understand I had no choice but to become that way too, right? You said you don't hate me. This is who I am. Even though it's unlikely anyone will ever unearth my secrets, I have to carry them with me from here on. I thought no one but those who'd been through those times with me would understand how I felt, and yet you alone were able to accept me. Isn't that reason enough to see you as special? Do you think this too is just some shallow emotion or another lie?"
But he was the sort of person who could say this sort of thing easily without really feeling that way.
"It may not be a lie, but it's still a shallow emotion."
"......You wound me."
"There's no room in you for serious love. It's not women that occupy your heart, but your great enemy. Even if I'm able to ease your heart a little, that's not love. I'm just being useful."
She should have been stating the obvious.
Lydia, too, had learned a little. He could be extremely clever with words when it came to getting what he deemed necessary.
And even if it was no lie that he needed her, that wasn't love.
"Can't it just be friendship? If I can be useful, then that's fine. After all, thanks to you, I get to work as a fairy doctor. If we can be compassionate towards one another as friends, it doesn't need to go any further. I also feel like I can believe that you don't see me as just another tool to be used."
However, he stared steadily at Lydia unsatisfied.
"That goes against my policy. It's over when a lady calls you friend."
This is why it becomes harder and harder to believe all his sweet-talking.
Lydia had had enough. She tried to force her way past him, but instead he got annoyed and put both hands to the wall trapping her.
He was suddenly in a bad mood, and it felt like he was also angry.
"Are you scared?"
But the words he murmured were spoken very gently.
Lydia wasn't so experienced to realise that he'd changed tactics, and was shaken by his words instead.
"It's as though you're afraid of being in love."
Lydia suddenly felt like crying again.
"That's what I thought the night of the ball, too. The more I chased after you, the more frightened you seemed to become. So, I've been patient, so you wouldn't run away. But at this rate, you'll end up becoming attracted to Paul, and it pains me to see that."
"......I said it's not like that with him."
It was almost as though what she should have been subjected to during the few days Edgar had been so quiet was coming down on her all at once. If this was the result, she wished he didn't store things up like that. Not only had she been caught off-guard, he gave her no chance to escape.
Not only was it distressing, all the blood went rushing to her head and Lydia became more and more confused by the instant.
"Could it be that you won't open your heart because of someone saying they loved you as part of an extended game when you were a child?"
Ahh, what should I do...
"......It's not that I'm afraid of being in love. I've fallen for someone before, although it was completely one-sided. But it's impossible for us to love. After all, it would be an embarrassment for you if I were to love you. Think about it. If I were to become serious and give my heart to you, and to hang around you, it would be an embarrassment, right? And if marriage proposals to a noble lady should arise, I'd be an even greater problem. Any way you look at it, it's impossible for you to become serious and accept a girl who isn't a good match for you. And yet, if you were to then act coldly towards me, I might sell your secrets to the tabloids in order to get even. That above all could be of no merit for you."
Lydia rambled on desperately.
Edgar looked a bit dismayed.
Lydia couldn't help thinking, 'You see?'
"If you understand, then kindly get out of the way."
"You are afraid, after all. You want to believe that things can't work out well. That way, there'd be no chance of being disappointed later."
It's not disappointment.
As a child, including that time, from the very start she knew she wasn't the sort who would be receiving letters confessing one's love of her. She sensed that it was some sort of joke.
Because to that child Lydia wasn't a friend, but a fairy friend. Being friends with the girl who was rumoured to be a changeling, was like talking to fairies in secret. Because the friend in dreams didn't exist in reality, so from him, she was someone to whom he could readily tell his worries to. There was no way having the imaginary coming sashaying out into the everyday world could feel pleasant. He didn't want to have Lydia, who knew all his weaknesses, to speak to him in front of others.
And yet she made that mistake embarrassing him.
She thought she knew her role. But instead she'd thought maybe it would be okay to get a little closer to being a real world friend. If there was something she was afraid of, it was of being deceived by lies.
If she were to mistake the distance that had to be maintained, no doubt even Edgar would find that to be distasteful.
"It's not that I don't want to end up being disappointed, I just don't want to mistake the distance we should maintain......."
"What do you mean, distance? That sort of thing is constantly changing, and can be changed, right?"
Lydia suddenly realised that Edgar had moved even closer to her.
"This distance, for example; we could make it as being natural for us," he said softly as he grasped her by the shoulders. Feeling the wall at her back, Lydia was unable to move.
"No, let go of me......"
Edgar grasped her arm as she tried to push him away and pressed his lips to her wrist right before her eyes. Lydia shivered at unexpectedly being touched on bare skin.
"Um, my lord..."
Paul's voice interrupted them hesitantly as he stood in the open doorway. However, Lydia's relief was short-lived. Edgar gazed down at her as he amused himself stroking her hair.
"I'm busy right now. Please leave, and close the door behind you," he said calmly.
"Lydia and I are having a bit of a difficult conversation is all."
This... is a conversation?
She wanted to tell Paul to wait, but with Edgar's ash-mauve eyes right before her, she couldn't help hesitating to speak.
Not to mention, Paul had no reason to disobey Edgar after being told to leave. The more frantic Lydia became trying to figure out what to do, the more difficult it became to speak.
"But Miss Lydia's trembling," Paul said boldly.
Edgar frowned deeply. But more than looking angry, he looked more lonely and hurt.
He reluctantly let go of Lydia.
"What a wonderful knight. It seems he's come to save you."
"My lord, that's not......"
"You may go. This conversation is over."
He waved one hand as though in dismissal before locking himself in the far room.