Sorry, this is raw. Too dead to do a read through. Especially after 'ye massive block of text' was X-posted. >.<;;
A week has passed since Lota first arrived in London. Not expecting the city to be so cold in late autumn, she quickly ended up buying an overcoat from a used clothing store. Since the overcoat was heavily patched, some people may have thought she was a beggar as she stood on a street corner smoking a hand-rolled cigarette as she kept an eye on the carriage stopped in front of the building kitty-corner to her.
As she watched, a young man wearing a white tie and black tailcoat stepped down from the carriage. Waving away the smoke from her cigarette, she focussed on the young gentleman. From his refined looks and the pure gold hair that fell on his brow, there was no mistake, it was him. She'd come to know the boy in a southeastern town in America where he'd been the leader of a gang of street kids. However, she'd heard he'd been caught and executed. And until she came to London, she believed that.
But when she came to this city, she sometimes caught sight of him and ended up doing a little digging. Learning that the man was the Earl of Ibrazel - Edgar J.C. Ashenbert, she couldn't help wondering if it really was someone else. Rumour'd had it that he was part of the British aristocracy, but she'd never believed someone like that would be in the worst slums of America.
There was no doubt in her mind now, however. More to the point she had no idea what to make of his being the earl involved...
"Lota, is that the guy that kidnapped Betty?" The burly man standing next to her asked.
"There's no mistake that he's Earl Ashenbert."
"In that case, let's grab him and get him to tell us where Betty is."
"Well, wait a bit. We need to check things out more first."
There was still another person in the carriage, and the man held out his hand for the woman as she slowly stepped down. Just as the lady took his arm, and ignoring the people around them, she kissed him passionately.
Lota watched as the two disappeared into the building together. Even though he'd become part of the nobility, he hadn't changed at all.
"......I don't believe it! That womaniser!"
But it wasn't Lota who spoke out.
Lota slowly looked around and spotted a young lady who'd apparently just come out of a bookstore. The girl standing in front of the shop window looked to be around 17 or 18 years old, and even though her reddish-brown hair was left down, it was lustrous and straight. The girl was dressed well, but she seemed to be a regular girl and not a member of the nobility.
Her reaction was that of someone who happened to be passing by when she'd spotted her suitor cheating on her.
'That guy, is he wanting to lay hands on such an honest-looking girl, even? Well, she does seem a bit the cute and spirited type which he likes.'
The girl noticed Lota staring at her and turned meeting her gaze. Perhaps she remembered her sudden outburst as her golden-green eyes widened in surprise before she quickly left embarrassed.
A grey cat ran as though chasing after the girl.
"That poor girl. No doubt he'll end up making her cry."
"You mean like Betty?"
"Betty wasn't the type to cry over something like that."
"She was a cry-baby and would often cry."
"Those were crocodile tears."
Lota tossed her smoke on the ground and crossed her arms in thought.
'That guy's Lord Ashenbert? And Betty's with him?'
In truth, Lota couldn't believe that was true.
As far as Lota knew, while Betty had been head over heels over the guy, once she'd discovered what a womaniser he was, she'd even gone so far as to wish him dead. And while his sweet-talk had been quite impressive, there didn't seem to be any strong feeling on his part.
Or perhaps he'd discovered some other way to use Betty. If that were the case, Lota couldn't help feeling a strong sense of responsibility.
Raven informs Edgar that Lydia has arrived; Edgar had been out until dawn and only just woken up and finished his bath. He'd been drinking until late and his mind was only just beginning to work. Asking Raven how Lydia seemed, Raven tells Edgar that she was as she usually was.
The dark-skinned boy had been Edgar's loyal servant since they'd been in America, and even though Edgar had taken to asking him almost every morning how Lydia seemed when she arrived for work, he never showed any sign of annoyance. For one thing, he'd never once given Edgar an annoyed look and regardless how foolish an order Edgar gave, he would calmly carry it out.
"However, she did inquire if you'd been out late last night."
"Why would she ask that?"
"We passed each other while I was carrying your clothes."
Edgar frowned slightly. Perhaps she figured that since he was late getting up that he'd been up until late. It was almost as though she suspected he'd stayed out all night.
"I wonder if she's wanting to see me right away," he said trying to get rid of a sudden bad feeling.
"I suspect otherwise," Raven said honestly.
Even though Edgar knew that Raven didn't understand human nature in wanting to avoid trouble, he couldn't help feeling a bit annoyed.
"I'm not wrong. Things between Lydia and I have been going extremely well lately. She no longer hates it when I ask her to accompany me, she doesn't get angry when I hold her hand, and sometimes she even looks like she's enjoying herself when she's with me. We've finally become like lovers."
"That's very different from your lovers until now."
Edgar ignored Raven's astute comment.
"Why, just this past Sunday, we went to church together. Church. This is me we're talking about. I listened to the sermon then went to her home for tea. I think I'm getting along rather well with her father lately, too. Well, I still haven't managed to talk to him about getting engaged, but I think I've been successful in showing my sincerity. It's a very pure and proper courtship, is it not? If things continue like this, no doubt Lydia will agree to marry."
"Hmm," Raven replied noncommittally. No doubt he didn't think it would be that simple.
'Come to think of it, Raven tells Lydia the straight facts whenever she asks him anything. I should make sure he keeps things to himself,' Edgar thought to himself before facing Raven.
"By the way, Raven, I was playing seven bridge at Slade's club last night until dawn......"
"Raven's not the one you need to be making excuses to, is he?" Ermine said firmly as she walked towards Edgar. The maid dressed as a man was Raven's half-sister having different fathers. "A woman's handkerchief was in your jacket pocket. What would you like done with it?"
"......Throw it away," he said indifferently before sitting on the sofa.
"My lord, weren't you going to end your relationships with other women now that you've proposed to Lydia? I heard you'd changed your attitude in order to try to gain her trust."
"I ended them. I just had a very lively conversation with the lady the handkerchief's from, and nothing improper happened between us."
"Your bad habit's showing itself again," Ermine said as she gazed at Edgar who was pouting like a child. "It's a bad habit making excuses like that while doing such imprudent things. You're able to manage having several lady friends at the same time so well. So why is it that when things look like they might go well with one, that you become so thoughtless?"
Edgar couldn't help feeling irritated. Most likely, it was exactly as she pointed out.
"Certainly, you don't think it'd be okay for her to find out and hate you, do you?"
"What, are you my governess?" he asked. It was the best way to get Ermine to shut up.
Edgar climbed to his feet dejectedly.
"What about your plans for today?" Raven asked ever business-like as Edgar moved to head out of the room.
'That's right, I was trying to remember what my plans were for today.'
Edgar couldn't help sighing as he remembered his plans for the day. He was planning on inviting Lydia to go out with him. Since he felt things between them were going well, he saw no reason to change his plans.
But on the other hand, he couldn't help asking himself if things were really okay the way they were. If they remained together like this, without doubt, Lydia would end up getting caught up in his battle. Yet, despite that, he couldn't bear the thought of giving her up.
Even if Lydia didn't come to love him, he didn't care what he did in order to keep her by his side. While he did think about how he should do things for Lydia's sake, ultimately, he was using their engagement to tie her to him and keep her there for his own sake. And on top of that, he was doing things that would be very bad if Lydia were to find out.
He had no right to act the good man and have second thoughts at this point.
"As planned. Ermine, bring the housekeeper with you to Lydia's room."
The fae hate human meddling. But despite that, they also want to have dealings with humans. They want human foods, steal livestock, and cause travellers to become lost on a whim. On the flip side, they sometimes bring people great luck.
Just why the fae try to interact with people that way...
Even for someone who specialises in the fae like a fairy doctor, Lydia couldn't help feeling that that was the way they were. That it was natural.
That's why it was a fairy doctor's job to solve the troubles that were caused when humans and the fae came into contact and couldn't lost contact with either side. It might be possible that people wouldn't think much if the fae were to cease to exist. Now, in the nineteenth century, most people considered fairies as creatures that exist only in fairy tales. But as long as the fae want to be near humans, fairy doctors would continue to be needed to act as bridge between the two even though sometimes they ended up pained by the fae's actions when they lead to tragic situations.
"A changeling, huh......" Lydia murmured as she read through the letters sent by people who were troubled by problems with the fae.
Lydia was the Earl of Ibrazel (Fae Lands) Edgar J.C. Ashenbert's fairy doctor advisor. As his name indicated, the earl's house also had holdings in the land of the fae. And since the Blue Knight Earl has always been close to the fae, many of them lived on the earl's lands in the human realm. As a result, various issues came to Lydia from people seeking advice. Normally, the earl himself should have the ability to counter fae magic, but since Edgar couldn't even see the fae, Lydia acted on his behalf.
While she'd been consulted on all sorts of problems from people living on the earl's lands which were scattered throughout Britain, there'd been nothing as serious as a changeling.
"Is it really a changeling?" the grey cat who suddenly appeared sitting on the edge of her desk asked as he peered at the letter.
"From what's written, it sounds that way."
"Hmm." Nico crossed his arms as he moved his fluffy tail. "For a changeling to happen on the Blue Knight Earl's lands... Didn't the Earl disapprove of that in the past? Nothing like that's come up from anywhere else until now."
"Yes, but if it is the real thing, the we need to hurry and get the baby back."
When the fae stole a human baby, they would leave a log, a rock, an old fairy, or sometimes, they would even leave a fae babe. These were changelings. There were various reasons for changelings. Sometimes the fae would steal a human baby simply because it was cute and they wanted to raise it, while other times some monster demanded one as a sacrifice. That's why, in the past, it was common practice to put wards against the fae on cradles, but these days, that knowledge was being forgotten.
To start with, Lydia wanted to learn more about the area involved. But it involved Edgar's holdings. No doubt, she would have to consult with him. Lydia could help instantly feeling depressed at that thought.
"......Why do I have to end up in a bad mood just because of that guy?"
She remembered what happened the previous day. The woman had had a sultry, languorous air to her. Not to mention that kiss. If that sort of thing was a kiss among lovers, then Lydia's case where his lips had briefly brushed hers was like something one would do to a baby.
"Calm down, Lydia. There's no need to be surprised at this point, is there? Quite frankly, I'm more surprised that we haven't run into such a definitive scene before."
That's right. That's why there's nothing between herself and Edgar.
'Just because I witnessed that scene, there's no need for me to get flustered,' Lydia told herself.
"A definitive what?"
Lydia instantly became guarded at the sound of that voice. She folded her hands in her lap in order not to give him any opening.
"Good morning, Lydia. You're beautiful today, as always. I'm so fortunate being able to see you everyday like this."
Edgar smiled genially as he walked towards Lydia.
"Your hair's still wet." Lydia meant the words to be spiteful with the unspoken comment that he'd apparently been out until late yesterday.
"Rather than taking pains to get ready, I wanted to see you as soon as possible."
"You don't need to worry about me. If you're tired, please get some rest."
"I'm not tired. We got a bit carried away with the game at Slade's club, yesterday. That's all."
Perhaps by mentioned the upper class men's club's name, he was trying to imply that he hadn't been near any women.
"Granted, I've heard of some women who are unhappy because their husbands become so immersed in places like that that they don't come home. But if you're worried about something like that, I swear that when we marry, you won't feel lonely."
"I'm not worried about it, nor am I going to marry you. So please enjoy yourself whether it's at the club or at a lady's home."
"Perhaps you don't understand? I see only you, and I've decided that you're the only one I want."
"I said you don't need to!"
Angry, Lydia unthinkingly put both hands on her desk and leaned forward only to have him kiss her on the head.
'G-getting flustered over something like this is exactly what he wants,' Lydia told herself as she quietly took a deep breath.
She'd recently come to realise that Edgar saw even her unwillingness as a couple's fooling around. That's why, even when he was being a bit too familiar with her, the more she disapproved, the more he enjoyed it.
"Ne......vermind that. Something serious is happening on your lands," Lydia said bringing up the business matter coolly.
"My problem's more important. Lydia, we have to go to Windsor today. You will come, won't you?"
Since he looked so serious, she couldn't help asking, "Is something wrong?"
"We need to hurry, so I'll tell you about it on the train. You need to get ready. Harriet will help you."
Surprised, Lydia turned and looked towards the door. The housekeeper Harriet stood there holding a dress blocking the doorway with her imposing figure.
Whenever Edgar dresses Lydia up, it's always with the intention of taking her to a gathering and showing her off. There was nothing important about it.
"No thank you. I'm busy......"
Lydia backed away trying to think of a way to escape when she bumped into someone behind her. Turning around, she found Ermine looking down at her.
"I'm sorry, Miss Lydia. Please do as Master Edgar says."
Even though Ermine spoke politely, her hand on Lydia's shoulder gave no signs of letting Lydia escape.
"Lydia, don't forget this either."
Just as she realised he'd taken her hand, he slid the moonstone ring on her ring finger. It was the engagement ring with fae magic. Now that the moonstone had woken, once it's put on her finger, it can only be removed by Edgar--the person the ring saw as her 'fiance'.
However, the ring was in Lydia's care, and she'd left it at home.
"Co-Coblynau! This is your doing, isn't it?!" Lydia yelled when she spotted the small mining fairy as he took off his triangular hat and scratched his head.
"Yes, miss. The earl asked me to bring him the ring."
The fairy that was in charge of the unusual moonstone's care didn't understand that Edgar's and Lydia's engagement was a lie. And he was hoping for their marriage for the sake of the gem that he took care of.
"Well, it's alright, isn't it? You should at least wear it when the two of you go out together."
"So, Lydia, if you'll come with me, I'll take it off for you afterwards."
"Now, Miss Lydia, let's hurry and get you changed."
With Harriet holding Lydia's arm firmly, Lydia was completely helpless.
"Master, would please leave the room."
As the housekeeper moved to take off Lydia's plain everyday wear, she realised that Edgar was still there.
"Ah, I can't stay?"
"Of course not, you pervert!" Lydia yelled losing her temper.
According to Edgar, his friend was holding an engagement party, and by the time they reach the mansion, Lydia's annoyance finally waned a little. It wouldn't do for her to be scowling, so she shoved her bad mood to one corner of her mind. Lydia glanced at Edgar only to meet his gaze and she realised that he'd been gazing at her for some time. She can't help smiling in response to his smile. The sun shining off the river was so bright and glittery, it seemed almost like a dream.
Enchanted by the beautifully decorated surroundings, Lydia found herself holding onto Edgar's arm as they walked in the garden. Even though she thought she should let go, she found that with her dress dragging along the top of the grass, it was easier for her to walk while holding his arm. And she couldn't help feeling that maybe it was okay.
As she came to accept things one after another, she felt that it was becoming more and more natural being with him. Perhaps she was caught in his spell.
Lately, her father too no longer said anything particularly critical about Edgar. Although the subject of marriage was never mentioned in his presence.
"This sort of garden party is also nice. With the wind and the sky also giving their blessing to the couple. What would you like to do in our case?"
Looking up at his brilliant blond hair and ash-mauve eyes, Lydia couldn't help wondering why he was looking at her so happily. As though he truly felt happiness at being together. And as though he really was gazing at his beloved lover.
"We'll have to prepare lots of herb sweets and fresh milk so your fae friends won't hesitate to come, too."
"Eh? Ah, no! I was thinking about something, just now."
"Too bad. My heart was really racing there for a moment."
Most likely, Lydia's was pounding even more."
For some reason, she couldn't help feeling that the way things were going, they really would end up getting engaged and hold a party. Lately, she sometimes suddenly felt that way. That the feeling smouldering deep in her heart was beyond her control.
Edgar congratulates his friend and on his engagement, and Lydia's surprised to discover that it was the man that was Edgar's friend. Edgar's friend then introduces his fiancee Jane, and Lydia can't help wondering at how ordinary Edgar's attitude was. While it would be rude for Edgar to show any interest in his friend's fiancee, it was so normal that Lydia couldn't help feeling it suspicious.
"So, Edgar, won't you introduce your fiancee."
'Wait a minute,' Lydia thought taken aback. Apparently, she was supposedly his fiancee already. But since she was wearing an engagement ring, she couldn't deny it either. Lydia managed a smile as she greeted the couple.
"You haven't formally announced your engagement, have you? When are you planning on doing so?"
"We haven't decided yet. Actually, her father has yet to give his permission."
"My, is he against it?"
"We're being careful and waiting for the right time. He apparently doesn't trust noblemen."
'Rather, he doesn't trust *you*.'
"True, when one's been rather flamboyant in their relationships with women, it can easily result in misunderstanding."
'He really is flamboyant.'
"But I think that if we talk things over properly, he'll understand. Lydia, I'm sure I can persuade him. Trust me. So, let's forget about any obstacles in the way of our love and enjoy ourselves as we share in their happiness."
'For me, you're love's greatest problem!'
"Yes, please enjoy yourselves. By the way, Miss Lydia, I'm also from the middle class. I'm worried about marrying into a different class, and I'm sure that from here on, there will be many things we can seek each other's advice on, so I hope we can become friends."
Lydia automatically nodded as Jane held her hand.
"I'm glad. I was worried I might not be able to mix in well now that I've suddenly joined the upper class."
Lydia felt a pang of guilt and realised that this was what Edgar had planned, and a feeling of exhaustion washed over her.
He didn't only want to dress Lydia up and walk around with her. Without doubt, he was slowly limiting her options in a way that there would be no problem for her to marry him. And in order to keep her from worrying about entering society, apparently, he even intended to prepare friends for her.
"Miss Lydia, I'd like to introduce you to some other friends of mine."
Lydia decided that if it meant being able to get away from Edgar's machinations, she would follow what Jane said. As they walked together, the suddenly left the party and entered the forest. Just as Lydia started wondering why Jane's friends would be in a place like that, she caught sight of two men with wine glasses in hand.
Apparently, they were already drunk.
"You've been drinking too much, you two," she said.
The friends she mentioned weren't ladies?
"Hey, Jane, that's a cute girl you've got with you."
"Come drink with us."
One of the men came forward and grabbed Lydia's arm, and Lydia couldn't help feeling disgusted at the smell of alcohol.
"No thank you. I'll be leaving."
Lydia tried to leave, but the man wouldn't let go of her arm. Lydia turned towards Jane wanting her help, but Jane quickly turned to leave.
"Will you say something to these people. They're your friends, aren't they?"
"Why not join them for a bit. They want to drink with a girl."
"Wh-what's going on? ......Why are you being so mean?"
"Huh, maybe because you annoy me."
Jane disappeared among the trees, and Lydia turned angrily and faced the men.
"I told you to let go of me!"
"You have a lot of spirit. I kinda like girls like that."
Lydia became frightened as the man wrapped his arm around her shoulders and automatically raised her hand against him.
"Ow! What'd you do that for!"
The man shoved Lydia away angrily. Striking her forehead hard against a nearby tree, Lydia fell.
"You there, stop that!"
Looking up, Lydia saw an elderly gentleman standing in front of her. He stood with his back straight, and his face which was lined with wrinkles made him seem to be a difficult man. He had an air of dignity to him that the young men were no match for.
"To treat a lady so roughly. Have you no pride as English gentlemen?"
The older gentleman glared sharply at the two men who quickly left deciding it best not to create a scene. He then turned to Lydia, and his manner was completely different from when he was dealing with the men.
"Are you all right, miss? Are you in any pain? Ah, you should lie still for a bit. I'll get your companion for you. What's his name?"
Lydia was reluctant to call for Edgar, but she knew no one else there. Nor could she impose any further on the elderly gentleman.
"......I beg your pardon. Earl Ashenbert......"
When she said that name, the man frowned slightly.
"Earl Ashenbert? I beg your pardon, but your name is...?"
"Lydia! What happened? Are you all right?"
Just then, Lydia spotted Edgar rushing towards her, so she didn't notice that the gentleman was lost in thought.
"Yes, I had a bit of a run-in, but this gentleman helped me."
Edgar thanked the gentleman as he looked worriedly at Lydia and stroked her brow.
"It's a bit scraped. I was a bit worried when I saw Jane return to the party alone and decided to make sure everything was okay. What happened?"
"It seemed like she passed this young lady into the company of some men," the gentleman said.
Lydia could only think that ultimately it was because of the womaniser who stood before her.
"Edgar, you've hit on her before, haven't you?"
"And because of that you ended up hurting her. And that's why she did this sort of mean thing to me......"
"I haven't done anything. I'm not so shameless as to hit on a friend's girlfriend."
"Then why did this happen?!"
The elderly gentleman, who'd been listening to Edgar and Lydia's conversation, spoke up.
"She'd been dreaming of marrying into the nobility, but she ended up catching a second son. She didn't know that he's to be posted in Egypt. The ladies were gossiping about how it was already too late."
Lydia sighed in disbelief.
Except for the heir, noble sons needed to work and earn their living. There was a great difference between them and the eldest son who inherited title, lands, and the family fortune.
Even though they were both from the middle class, Jane thought Lydia was promised the position of Countess, and that's probably why Lydia 'annoyed' her.
Lydia finally managed to climb to her feet with Edgar helping support her, but like her wine-stained dress, she couldn't help feeling wretched.
She did this to me because of that?
This was why Lydia didn't like attending human gatherings. For Lydia, they were places where people said things about her behind her back or were mean to her. However, since coming to London, even though she attended functions much more often than before, because Edgar was her escort, no one spoke ill of her within her earshot. Perhaps she'd been careless.
"By the way, Earl Ashenbert, I'm sorry to bring this up right after you cleared up your misunderstanding with your fiancee, but there's something I'd like to ask you."
Edgar looked at the elderly gentleman confused.
"What ever happened to talk about your marrying my granddaughter?"
Lydia became angry again.
"Edgar! Wh-why you......"
"Wait. I have no idea what he's talking about."
"Just how many people have you proposed to?!"
"I told you, you're mistaken. For one thing, just who are you?"
When the elderly gentleman named himself, Edgar looked surprised and straightened up.
"His Excellency the Grand Duke of Cremona? I thought you were in exile in Holland?"
While Lydia remembered the name of the Grand Duchy of Cremona from when she studied history, all she could remember was that it was supposed to be a small state in Southern Europe. Since he was in exile, perhaps there had been a revolution in the country. Either that, or perhaps they'd lost a war. Lately, there had been a great deal of political change in European countries, and she'd heard that many exiled noble families from the continent had come to Britain.
"You're well informed. Perhaps you heard that from my granddaughter?"
"I don't know your granddaughter. Anyone in society will have heard your name mentioned."
"My young earl, I can't see London society still talking about the Grand Duchy of Cremona 17 years after it fell. I myself, lived quietly in Holland. What happened to Charlotte? After receiving a ridiculous letter stating that she was to marry, we haven't heard anything more from her. And when I come to England, I find that another lady is your fiancee."
While the gentleman's voice was calm, there was no mistake from his manner of speech that he wanted an explanation.
"A letter? Are you telling me the letter was from me?"
"When we went into exile barely escaping with our lives, Charlotte was only three years old. She was supposed to go to America with her parents, but the ship sank and we thought that all aboard were lost. But Charlotte survived, and you wrote in the letter that you were taking her to your country as your bride, did you not?"
Edgar suddenly looked very serious.
'Perhaps he knows something?'
"In other words, until you saw that letter, you had no idea she was still alive......?"
"There was no way I could have known."
"In which case, why did you believe your granddaughter was still alive just from reading the letter?" Edgar asked appearing to still be considering the situation.
"It was stamped with the ring with the family crest that my granddaughter was supposed to be carrying. What was the meaning of sending it with a wooden doll wearing a bridal outfit?"
"It's a changeling," Lydia murmured.
The Grand Duke turned towards Lydia.
"Um, it's a well-known fairy tale here in England. When the fae steal a human baby, they leave a wooden doll in its place. When they steal away adults, again they leave something like that in its place, so most likely, in your granddaughter's case too......"
Because fae magic could leave such a replacement in a person's home while taking the person away to where the fairy lived and keeping them there.
The Grand Duke looked uncertain at the sudden mention of the fae.
"The fae, huh. Perhaps this is some bad joke of yours since you call yourself the Blue Knight Earl. So you mean that you stole away my granddaughter like the fae do? When we did some investigating, we found out that a girl that seemed to be Charlotte was in America and there were signs she was taken away by someone. Earl Ashenbert, I've heard some interesting talk in society of how your house has deep ties with the fae. It took a long time before I learned that the name Blue Knight Earl that was written on the letter referred to the English Earl Ashenbert, but is it not rude not to identify yourself by your formal name?"
It was hard to tell if Edgar heard the Grand Duke's harsh words as he seemed to barely be present.
Lydia couldn't help feeling that he did know something, after all.
Not to mention that granddaughter was supposed to have been in America. Granted America was quite vast, but she couldn't see Edgar being surprised at the Grand Duke's identity just because of the man's social rank. Even though he was high nobility, he'd lost his rank, so Lydia couldn't see Edgar who'd been born into a duke's family to show such respect. Not to mention that Edgar had been naming himself as Earl Ashenbert from before Lydia met him. So she could see him using that name when he was still in America to deceive the ladies.
And if he knew that the girl was the Grand Duke's granddaughter, since he needed whatever power he could get, she might have been of some use to him.
However, Edgar denied it flatly.
"In any case, I was not involved. I'm afraid I can't help you."
Edgar tried to lead Lydia away, but the old man thrust his cane out before Edgar's feet blocking him.
"If you had no intention of marrying her, then what did you do to my granddaughter? ......Don't tell me, that I can no longer see her......"
"If you accuse me of anything more, I'll take it as an insult."
The nobility were very particular about honour such that when they ended up fighting amongst themselves, it wouldn't end at mere harsh words. That even the smallest thing would lead not to a fistfight but to a fight to the death was beyond Lydia's comprehension, but even she could tell that the current situation was very delicate.
Panicking, she pushed Edgar on the back.
"Um, in any case, we'll be going. I'll send my regards again later," she said as she managed to get Edgar away from the Grand Duke and leave the area. Exhaustion poured over her as she stopped by the river.
"Why did you speak like that? If it was a misunderstanding, it would be apparent if you talked things over. And it could be that you could have helped him."
Edgar turned looking irritating.
"I don't want to get involved in something that doesn't involve me."
"But they used your name."
"If it's from two years ago, it was before I became earl."
Lydia cocked her head.
"Two years ago? The Grand Duke of Cremona didn't say when he received the letter."
"......He did. Weren't you listening?"
Edgar quickly looked away making Lydia more suspicious of him.
If she wasn't mistaken and the Grand Duke hadn't mentioned it, it meant that Edgar knew that. Two years ago was rather specific.
Is he hiding it because he had something to hide? Did he promise to marry her? In order to use her? Is she alive?
Unable to ask, Lydia looked down silent.
Edgar walked to the river wetting his handkerchief in the water.
"Lydia, he'll manage to take care of his business. Even without getting involved, we have our own enemy."
He pressed his handkerchief against Lydia's forehead. The scrape she got when she hit the tree trunk stung. A lock of her reddish brown hair that came loose fell into her face as she looked down. Edgar's fingers caught the lock and wrapped it behind her ear as though to fix her hair.
The feel of his fingertips gave her goosebumps.
And she suddenly remembered the scene she witnessed the previous day.
Even though she'd become used to him touching her, Lydia could help drawing away.
"I don't understand people very well. The reason for what happened to me is also ridiculous. And you're always keeping things from me."
"Keeping things from you?"
"......You really do know, don't you? About the noble lady of Cremona."
"You suspect me, too?"
"How many women have you used by speaking of marriage?"
"You're the first person I proposed to."
"Liar. You've been lying to me all day today."
"When have I lied?"
Edgar frowned as though surprised.
"Playing a game at the club is a lie."
"It's the truth. Ask Slade."
"It's easy to get someone to corroborate for you."
"Then what can I do to make you believe me?"
"I won't believe you. After all, I saw you. You kissed a beautiful lady then went into her residence."
There was a brief pause. But because Edgar's expression didn't change, Lydia had no idea what was going through his mind.
"That...... was most likely a kiss meant in greeting."
"Regardless how childlike I might be, even I know that wasn't the case."
"It was just the way things go sometimes, that's all there was to it. Not only do I leave her place soon thereafter, nothing more happened."
"I-I wasn't asking that. After all, I'm not really your fiancee!"
"But you're angry."
That's right. If it didn't matter, why did it make her angry?
Even yesterday, for an instant it made her angry, but when she calmed down, she was supposed to have accepted that it had nothing to do with her. And she intended to forget about it, but now that she suddenly remembered it, she could no longer contain her anger.
"Is it strange for me to be angry? Doing that sort of thing at the same time as you're trying to woo me is rude. ......Ultimately, you're just playing around with me, aren't you?"
"I'm serious about you. But right now, you don't it's one-sided on my part, right? Even I sometimes feel lonely."
"You mean that for now, anyone will do?"
"She too saw it as just killing time. She's probably forgotten my name by now," he said defiantly.
Lydia grew angry unable to understand.
"......I see. You can't become serious about anyone, can you?" Lydia snapped. She shoved the handkerchief back at him and started walking away.
"Why must you be so obstinate? My feelings for you are in earnest, what more can I do to show that I'm serious?"
"What do you mean obstinate? Maybe I can't see you being sincere because you're not!"
Even though he grabbed her arm so strongly that it hurt, she could tell that Edgar was angry, and she suddenly became worried.
Because she said he couldn't become serious about anyone?
But Edgar was going too far. After all, he was doing things that made her unable to continue trusting him.
Even though she try to shake off his hand, he showed no intention of letting go. His ash-mauve eyes stared at her as though in challenge. Feeling that she would lose if she looked away, Lydia glared back at him.
His face drew near. Shaking, Lydia managed to speak. "......Don't. Even though you're angry with me, you'll still do something like that?"
Giving in but not bothering to hide his anger, Edgar let go of Lydia.
"I......'m leaving," Lydia murmured struggling to contain her confusion. With her dress stained, she had no desire to return to the party.
"Of course. Let's go."
"I want to go home alone."
"I can't let you go back on your own from Windsor."
"In that case, I'll take Ermine with me.
In truth, for Lydia, even that much made her feel like she was being watched by him and made her uneasy. But since she wanted him to take the moonstone ring off, she didn't want to argue with him any further.
Late at night, Edgar slipped out of his room and went down the stone staircase deep in the north wing. The occasional draft caused the candle he held in his hand to flicker making his shadow writhe as though it had a will of its own. He protected the flame from the drafts and unlocked the door at the bottom.
Inside was another door at the far end of the room.
Opening that door, the sight of the large star sapphire caught his eye. It looked like a cross-shaped star shining in the indigo night.
The jewel, said to carry fae magic, was called the Merrow's Star. And the old long sword that bore that stone was bestowed upon the first Lord of Ibrazel, the Lord Blue Knight, by the English King along with his rank. And it's because Edgar obtained this sword that the state recognised him as an earl.
And it was thanks to the Fairy Doctor Lydia that he was able to obtain the sword from the merrow, who were protecting it, and live. Edgar couldn't even solve the riddle the fae created to ensure that the sword would end in the hands of none but the descendants of the earl's house. In the end, the merrow, knowing that Edgar was not of the earl's line, entrusted the sword to him. Because they thought the earl's bloodline had died out.
However, what Edgar gained was the name and rank of earl only. He didn't have the mysterious abilities that the previous earls wielded.
He hadn't thought that that would be a problem, but right now, it was Edgar's weakness. Because his greatest enemy used magic-like powers.
The organisation that the man known as 'the prince' led killed Edgar's family, stole him away, and robbed him of his freedom. And while Edgar managed to escape from the prince along with Raven, Ermine, and some friends, most of his friends ended up being killed.
Despite that, Edgar survived and gained the rank of earl, and while strengthening his own position, he planned on getting his revenge. However, his greatest worry was Ulysses--one of the prince's men. Ulysses could command the fae and get them to do his bidding.
Edgar, on the otherhand, couldn't even see the fae.
There was no way he could fight against Ulysses this way.
He took the sword and slid it out of its sheath. The polished silvery blade was sharp and spoke of it medieval origin.
"Hmm, would that be the Blue Knight Earl's sword? It truly is wonderful."
While he could hear the voice, he couldn't see the speaker. But Edgar knew that fairy who'd come to Lydia.
"Coblynau? I thought you spent your nights at Lydia's home."
"Oh, I drank too much with the hobgoblins here and missed going home."
A wine cork which shouldn't have been in the room rolled on the stand where he'd left the candle. Apparently, that's where Coblynau was.
According to Lydia, he was a small fairy with a ruddy-faced, a button nose, and a bushy beard. Since she says he wears a triangular hat and dressed like a miner, Edgar imagined he looked like the dwarves in picture books.
"You're quite knowledgeable about gems, aren't you? What do you think about this star sapphire? The actual star is supposed to have three rays crossing, but because I became earl, it's now a cross. The three rays are supposed to represent hope, trust, and fate. Since this sword is missing one ray, perhaps that means that I too am lacking in some way."
"Not at all. This has the merrow's magic cast upon it. I've heard that the light of the star sometimes changed in some situations. All I know is that this one isn't lacking in any way. Indeed, it's perfect, my lord. It's a sword that will bring death to your enemies, and healing to your allies."
'Come to think of it, this sword is supposed to be unable to shed the blood of the Blue Knight Earl's descendants.' Edgar remembered. 'Not to mention it was supposed to be a holy item in the middle ages. There are even old tales that the sword would heal wounds when pressed against them.'
Edgar tried pressing the sword against his fingertip. It cut his skin drawing a hint of blood.
Even though the sword was supposed to have become Edgar's, it was as though the sword could tell that he wasn't the real earl.
But he didn't care if the sword accepted him or not. There was something more important he wanted to know.
"Coblynau, about enemies, does that include those that aren't human?"
"Well, yes. It's said that, in the past, the Blue Knight Earl used the sword to drive out evil fae from his lands."
So the sword was an effective weapon against the fae. The problem, however, was whether Edgar would be able to wield it and kill the fae."
"Hey, would you let me try it on you?" Edgar asked.
The cork fell and Coblynau's presence disappeared.
While her relationship with Edgar would sometimes become awkward, she couldn't neglect her work because of it. So Lydia arrived at the earl's residence at her usual time today, as well. Yesterday, because she'd ended up accompanying Edgar to Windsor, she was unable to get any work done, but she was worried about the changeling incident and needed to hurry and look into it.
"Miss Lydia, this is the problem area," the butler Tompkins said as he spread a map out on the table.
Since she didn't feel comfortable conferring with Edgar, she decided to seek the butler's help instead. While she regretted having to impose on Tompkins, who was responsible for all sorts of business for the earl's residence to managing the household's staff, he didn't show any sign of annoyance as he gathered together the information Lydia needed.
The small town was in Yorkshire's coastal hill country.
"Is there anything unusual about the area?"
Many of the Blue Knight Earl's holdings in England had been given to him because they were beyond the control of human landowners. Most likely, various fae tribes inhabited the area and caused trouble in the past, but it could be that wasn't all there was to the area.
"Fluorite can be mined there. While Blue John is probably the most well-known of English fluorite, the fluorite in this area is reddish-purple. It's called flare and occasionally stones that shine as though flames are raging within are found, but there's been no such record for three hundred years. It appears to be extremely rare."
"I see regular fluorite can also be mined. But there hasn't been a shipment for over ten years," Lydia said as she looked at the papers.
"There's a limit on how much they're permitted to mine in a year. Lately, even though they maintain that limit, they say that they're finding little of salable quality. There are also fewer miners. Perhaps they can earn more by working in the factories in town."
"Why is there a limit on how much they're allowed to mine?"
"Apparently, that was decided in the past when the earl made a deal with the fae. It's just enough to ensure that the villagers don't starve in poor harvest years. While the village isn't well-off, it didn't ever suffer from famine either. If they mined as much as they liked, not only would they have mined the vein dry, most likely it would've caused discord with the fae."
But a changeling has been left in the village. Lydia couldn't help noticing that this was the first consult she received from that village since being hired. Could it be that there'd been no incidents until now when they suddenly had a changeling incident?
Lydia was lost in thought when the door suddenly burst open and Nico came running in.
"Uwaa, stop already!"
Even though he was panicking, Nico ran on two legs.
"I said just the tip of your tail would do."
Edgar followed Nico into the room carrying the merrow's sword.
"No way. As if I'd let you chop off my elegant tail!"
Nico ducked under the tablecloth hugging his bushy tail.
"Come out from there, Nico. I'll give you your favourite foods."
"As if I could trade my tail for food!"
"It'll just grow back, right?"
"I'm not a lizard!"
Edgar threw the tablecloth back and readied his sword.
Lydia sighed and climbed to her feet at Nico's scream.
"Edgar, kindly don't brandish a weapon in my office."
Edgar lowered his sword and looked at Lydia with his usual gentle smile.
"Good morning, Lydia. How's your injury from yesterday? Does it still hurt?"
Perhaps Edgar's never thought about things being awkward after arguing about various issues the day before.
'Probably not. He's that sort of guy."
"I've learned the identities of the two men who caused you trouble. I'll see to it that they're taught a lesson."
Huh? What is he thinking?!
"Please, don't do anything back. ......It doesn't bother me anymore."
"Then will you forgive me, too?"
'That's a different issue,' Lydia thought.
Edgar looked a bit dismayed and cocked his head to one side at her silence.
"I see, not yet. But I've decided to change."
He raised the sword before him.
"Lydia, there's an experiment I must conduct in order to protect you."
He turned once again towards Nico, but the grey coloured fae cat had since disappeared.
"He got away." Edgar grumbled and looked around as he thought. He focussed on Tompkins who jumped a little.
"Tompkins, you carry merrow blood in you, don't you?"
"Yes, but that was many generations ago, so I have the same lifespan as normal people, and I'll drown if I fall into the sea......"
Tompkins had the stocky body, widespread eyes, and thick lips characteristic of male merrow. While she's never seen it, he apparently had a fin on his back.
Flustered, Tompkins tried to take a step back but the wall was behind him.
"M-Master, is that an order?"
'Y-you mean you'll let him cut you if it's an order?'
"I said stop it, Edgar!"
"Oy, what's all the fuss about?"
A young man with curly black hair came in through the window. When in human form, he had a mysterious, intense beauty to him, but he was really a ferocious kelpie who, for some reason, had taken a liking to Lydia. He was staying in London having come down from Scotland.
Edgar turned towards Kelpie as though he'd found his prey.
As they were speaking, Edgar approached Kelpie and suddenly struck out with the merrow's sword. It looked as though the sharp point of the blade pierced Kelpie, who didn't even try to avoid the blow. Kelpie continued to sit calmly on the window sill. He grinned.
"Hey, earl. Mere humans can't kill me."
'I felt the blade strike,' Edgar thought as he stared at the blade and sighed in disappointment.
"Past Blue Knight Earls may have been able to call forth that sword's power, but it's beyond you."
Lydia broke into a cold sweat at Edgar's sudden action, and she quickly ran over to Kelpie.
"Are you alright? You really aren't hurt?"
"Not in the least. It was about the same as having the wind blow."
Kelpie straightened up after climbed down from the window, and Lydia touched him as though to see for herself. While Lydia would never have been able to touch a human man, since he was fae and and a horse, she was fine. Even though she could feel his muscular flesh beneath his shirt, it was no different from stroking a beautiful horse's velvety coat.
"You're right, it did nothing."
But Edgar seemed annoyed as he drew Lydia away by the shoulder.
"Please don't touch another man's body in front of me."
"Th-there's no need to make it sound indecent."
"Since he's in human form, that's how it looks."
"For one thing, it's your fault for trying to strike Kelpie. What if you actually hit him?! It's the merrow's sword, after all. You might've killed him!
"You care that much about this guy?"
"W......well, he's sort of like a friend."
"You get upset over my having female friends, yet you expect me to accept your having male friends?"
Isn't he really twisting the argument?
"Kelpie isn't a male friend, he's a fae friend. No one would get jealous if you were madly in love with a canary."
"I wonder. If a peacock were to spread its mating feathers before you, I would shoot it dead."
While she wanted to think he was joking, his ash-mauve eyes were serious as he looked at her.
"That's why he annoys me." He glance briefly at Kelpie.
"Oy, earl, give it a rest already. Quit trying to bind Lydia out of your desire to have her to yourself."
"Kindly stay out of this. As her fiance, what I'm saying is only natural."
'What part is?' Lydia wondered and her ire from the previous day grew. Not only had he kissed some lady, he might have tried to marry the granddaughter of the Grand Duke of Cremona, and on top of that, he still unashamedly intended to treat Lydia as though she were his fiancee.
He had a lot of nerve.
"Kelpie, would you please leave for a moment? There's something I need to make clear to Edgar."
Because to say anything that denied their engagement in front of Kelpie would create problems later.
"Try having a little tact. We want to speak of our love for one another in private, so you're in the way."
Kelpie reluctantly vanished leaving the words 'as if that were the case' hanging in the air.
Lydia clenched her fist in determination. "Edgar, I..."
"Wait a moment."
"I won't wait. If you think you can have everything your way, you're greatly mistake......"
"Tompkins, you may go."
Lydia froze from embarrassment with her fist still clenched when she finally realised that Tompkins was still in the room.
"Of course, sir."
The door closed softly, but before Lydia could remember what she wanted to say, Edgar wrapped his hands around her fist.
"Lydia, please understand. I don't want to give you to anyone."
"What is wrong with you? You're deliberately doing things that make it hard to trust you."
"I won't do it again. I promise, so please, won't you consider marriage?"
"Th-they're two different issues. You know that, don't you?"
Even though he still held her hand, Lydia tried to draw away a little, but Edgar closed the gap between them.
"They're not separate. If you're becoming jealous, it means we love each other."
"I'm not jealous. You're a liar, and it doesn't matter what you say, I just can't trust you."
"You're a liar, too. You're getting upset because you're falling in love with me, but you don't want to admit it."
Lydia became flustered at Edgar's retort. She wanted to deny it, but couldn't find the right words. She looked down and avoided his gaze.
"Admit it. See me."
She'd intended to complain about his treating her as his fiancee, but instead, she was on the verge of being talked into things.
"If you do, I'll no longer have any doubts. I intend to prepare myself."
Lydia's heart was racing and she knew her face was flushed.
"Wh-what do you mean by that? That you've been having second thoughts about marrying me? While I'm useful to you, you mean it'll take a lot of determination for you to tie yourself to one person, don't you?"
"You're wrong. I want to firm my resolve to love you and keep you safe."
How is it you can say something like that with such a serious look to someone like me?
'In any case, I have to get away.' That was all Lydia could think anymore.
If she didn't, she felt like she might be convinced into accepting Edgar's argument. Not wanting him to notice her confusion, Lydia fled from the room.
Raven respectfully picked up the sword that had been tossed aside and sheathed it. Sensing that movement in the corner of his eye, Edgar stood in the middle of the room Lydia had left and murmured, "This isn't good, Raven. I can't fight like this."
Because he couldn't wield the sword.
Even so, if Lydia came to love him, if she felt she wanted to stay by his side, he would firm his resolve and think of a way to keep her safe. It wasn't as though by firming his resolve that he would be able to see the fae, nor was there any certainty he would be able to stand against Ulysses.
He just didn't want to face the possibility that he might have to distance himself from her.
Even though a part of him felt that if he wanted to keep Lydia safe, his only choice was to distance himself from her, he refused to give in and continued trying to woo her.
"I don't think I can let her go. Maybe someone would steal her away from me."
"Do you have any intention of watching silently should that happen?"
'Probably not.' Edgar thought and sighed deeply.