Another day passed, and unlike the day before, Eden made his way to Astina’s ducal residence sometime in the afternoon, well after lunch. Even though his last early visit had no deep connection with Ria’s accident, Eden was somewhat bothered by the early visit for some reason.
As he neared the garden where he’d first met Ria, the woman sitting at the table called out to him and gave him a bright smile. His face momentarily twitched when he saw Rune sitting at the table, but outwardly, he showed no sign of discomfort and only cursed inwardly.
“How is your hand?”
“It’s fine. The physician said it would heal quickly. Thank you for your concern.”
The garden, adorned with numerous flowers and basked in warm sunlight, seemed to complement her beauty perfectly. Perhaps that’s why Eden he could see a glow emanating from her, a glow so brilliant and beautiful that he would gladly go blind.
His eyes, which had naturally become dreamy, found focus only after Ria called him again.
“Oh. By the way, I brought an ointment produced in the Carlisle Estate, just in case it might help.”
“Oh my, thank you.”
Rune broke in bluntly, not liking the smooth conversation. Eden’s eyes narrowed, then straightened, and he settled back into his seat. Rune, with a seemingly natural movement, turned towards Ria and had to swallow a forced laughter that threatened to burst out.
“I brought it. Um, Ria. Actually, I have something to tell you. Will you listen?”
Feeling a little nervous about what he was about to say, Eden unconsciously clenched and unclenched the hand he’d placed on his thigh. Ria blinked a couple times before nodding, and he let out a small sigh of relief, taking a couple deep breaths before speaking again.
“Ever since I heard about your legs the first day we met, I’ve been concerned. So, I looked into various ways to help and coincidentally remembered an herbal remedy available in my territory, which are the most effective at awakening your legs to respond, and I wanted to give them to you as a gift right away, because I know how inconvenient it must be to not be able to move your legs.”
Ria agreed with a nod. Since she couldn’t keep relying on Rune forever, she was also eager for her leg to recover quickly.
“And…, and this may offend you, no, it won’t, but I was actually going to make a deal with you about this herb. I was going to ask you to make time to meet with me on a regular basis, because I wanted to get to know you.”
“And… it might feel a bit awkward, or maybe not, but I was actually going to make a deal with you about this herb. I was going to ask you to make time to meet with me on a regular basis, because I wanted to get to know you.”
“It may sound selfish, yes. But no matter how much I thought about it, it was the only way I could think of, and I’m sorry.”
Was what Eden said true? The perplexing part for Ria began there. She had nothing to offer him. She was still in a situation where she owed Rune, and she didn’t know much about this new world, much less what to do with it.
Eden read Ria’s expression shrewdly, recognizing her uncertainty, and spoke quickly.
“You don’t have to do anything. Just spending time with you and becoming friends would be a great gift for me.”
“A little… um, it’s confusing. We only met a few days ago.”
“Would you believe me if I told you that I knew from the moment I saw you that I wanted to get to know you?”
Eden made a face full of sincerity. It wasn’t hard to believe, because that’s exactly what he had thought, and hoped.
“I don’t have many friends with whom I can speak openly. I’ve only met Duke Astina publicly a few times, and we’re not close enough to talk privately.”
“Probably, Duke Astina is similar to me. We are the only two dukes in this empire, and most people who approach us, for better or worse, have some kind of agenda. There has never been anyone sincerely approaching us, so we’ve naturally closed ourselves off.”
“But the Duke of Astina saw the first person who opened his heart. That was you. So, I thought maybe I could open up to you. … I’m sorry, after saying it, it all seems like my selfishness.”
‘What a bunch of nonsense.’
Rune’s expression grew harsher and harsher as Eden continued to ramble on with pitying words. He even cursed under his breath.
He couldn’t help it. That was all a lie.
A tiny bit of truth was mixed in. The part about him and Duke Carlisle being the only two dukes in the empire, and most people approaching them having some kind of agenda, was true.
But other than that, everything else was a lie. First, he said that they were not that close, and he was relieved to hear that. It was probably better that way, considering how they got along with each other. The friendship they had when they were young had disappeared a long time ago. The relationship between them was now like an old grudge.
And what, Eden’s naturally closed off? This was not even funny. Eden Carlisle is as good at manipulating people as Rune was, and he has no feelings. He wasn’t interested in others enough to find someone to share his heart with, and he wasn’t a romantic enough to care about such things.
But Rune’s lovely Ria, who did not know his true nature, seemed to believe everything Eden said as the truth. That was probably the point Eden was aiming for.
“Selfishness? Everyone can’t live alone. It’s too lonely to live alone. Wanting to confide in someone and spend time with them is perfectly natural.”
Eden must have known she was going to say something so sweet.
Rune wanted to shout that Eden had never thought about the pain or anything like that. However, he couldn’t. Because he was also in the same category as him. If he revealed Eden’s true identity, he would be the person Ria would blame for everything. As much as he know Eden well, Eden also knows him well. If Rune spreads the truth about Eden, Eden would be the one to spread the truth about Rune as well.
Rune teeth gnashed. He wondered if at this rate, he would lose Ria. This couldn’t go on.
While Rune was feeling anxious, Eden, who sensed the change in his feelings, tugged the corner of his mouth into a smile that only Rune could see, then turned to Ria with a composed expression.
“Ria, thank you. But the idea of making a deal with you about the important herbal remedy itself was fundamentally wrong. It was a mistake. So, let’s just forget about it, okay?”
“Instead, give me a chance.”
“Yes. You still don’t know much about this empire, do you?”
She nodded at Eden’s question. She was about to ask Rune to teach her about this world, now that she had to live here.
“I’d like to teach you about the Empire, and I’m sure Rune will, but don’t you think that if we split it up between the two of us, you’ll get a broader and deeper knowledge quickly?”
Considering the persuasive power of his words, Ria, who had been pondering for a moment, turned her head to look at Rune. Although he could only say the opposite of what he felt, Rune, who was glaring at Eden with an unpleasant expression, quickly suppressed his expression and returned to his familiar demeanor, one that she knew so well, saying to Ria.
“Do as you wish, Ria.”
Even though he could only say words completely contrary to his inner thoughts.
“Umm, I’m actually most comfortable with Rune, not that I’m uncomfortable with you, Eden, but…, Well, we’ve only spent little time together, you know?”
Ria, who had been choosing her words carefully in response to Rune’s agreement, quickly added a reason in case Eden was hurt by her words. Eden couldn’t help but chuckle at how cute she was.
“But it’s not like I’m rejecting your thoughts outright. Also, I think if I want to live here now, it would be good to meet many people. So if you don’t mind, Eden…, could you help me?”
Having seen Rune’s work as a Duke for the past few days, it wasn’t hard for Ria to see that it was an incredibly busy position.
Even if Eden, in the same position, had more work or less, yet, he willingly offered to help first, how could she refuse? The generosity he showed was so overwhelming that Ria felt like she had to repay him.
Besides, she can’t keep Rune by her side forever, especially with the Duke’s affairs keeping him busy. He had his work to do, and her current self was a distraction She couldn’t just go with the flow and let Rune take care of her, blind to this changed reality. Therefore, in order for Rune to focus more on his work and for herself to adapt quickly to the new world, Ria judged that seeking help from others wouldn’t be a bad idea.
“So, would it be alright if I come by about three times a week?”
“Are you sure you won’t be too busy? Once a week is fine for me.”
“Not at all. In fact, I could make more time.”
For Rune, who deep down wanted to take her home and keep her there for the rest of his life, three times a week was far too many.
“Three times a week is enough for me, if you don’t mind, so please be good to me, Eden.”
But Ria, who is oblivious to everything, smiles innocently, thinking that she was fortunate to meet so many good people in this completely different world.
Little did she know that she was stepping into the open jaws of a beast, ready to devour her, without realizing it.