Before I knew it, the children had found their way to my room, and I was grateful for them, just as I was before I returned.
Especially because these were children who had never approached me voluntarily.
Even if I heard words filled with sarcasm and malice, I thought they acknowledged me a little for coming to find me.
Especially since they were children who had not yet become adults.
I believed that they would understand me after they matured over time.
I deliberately ignored their thorny words and endured their hateful glares.
I thought I had to understand and embrace them, as they were children who had lost not only their mother but also their father.
It was arrogance.
Beyond being the duchy, my implicit title within the Empire was precisely that,
Belladonna, the Magpie Duchess.
Before my return, the nickname ‘Magpie’ was a mocking term used to refer to me, someone who raised the Duke’s children without a drop of noble blood mixing in.
Of course, ‘Magpie’ came into being after Duke Dylan disappeared, and I raised the children on my own.
Before that, another epithet that was used was [Lady Greed.]
The woman who took up with the widowed duke and eventually took over as duchess.
Duke Dylan’s disappearance further fueled that title, and the news of me being the culprit even made its way into the Empire’s newspapers.
Of course, among the many rumors that spread, not all were true.
Baseless false rumors spread recklessly throughout the Empire, eventually reaching the point where the Imperial Family had to step in.
The Imperial Family investigated, as there were only two duchies in the Empire: the Duchy of Dylan and the Duchy of Deprican.
I was found innocent.
The problem was that the outcome was not based on conclusive evidence.
This was because no substantial evidence had been found regarding the Duke’s disappearance.
As a result, rumors about me quieted down but could never be completely silenced.
Since there was no physical evidence, I thought the Duke would definitely return, but the case of Dylan’s disappearance remained unsolved until I faced my death.
And now, after two months had passed since Duke Dylan’s disappearance, the children came to me.
“How long will you continue to do this?”
In front of me, with an expressionless face, spoke the eldest of the Dylan family.
The successor to Duke Dylan’s title, who would inherit the duchy from me in three years.
Kaelan Dylan, 17 years old.
“Uncle1숙부님 is a term used to refer to one’s father’s younger brother who is not married Ferdo left a will in advance, and the madam received the title of Duchess. Don’t you think you should play your role? If you can’t do it, it’s not too late now.”
The child who held needles in her words was not actually a child of the Dylan family.
She was the niece of Duke Dylan, entrusted to the Dylan family after the death of the Duke’s older brother, Viscount Tramlin, and his wife. She had deep chestnut hair and emerald eyes.
Anna Tramlin, 17 years old.
“Haldyr. I miss my father…”
“Don’t cry, Reina. I’m here.”
Standing behind Kaelan and Anna, two children with transparent silver hair and clear sky-blue eyes, the pride of the Dylan family, holding hands with each other.
Haldyr Dylan, 12 years old.
Reina Dylan, 11 years old.
Their reaction was the same as before the regression, but unlike then, I was not hurt by their words. I was just a little tired of having to go through the same thing again.
Kaelan, the oldest, who treats me with no emotion as if I were a stranger,
Anna, who always mocks me,
The youngest, Reina, who tormented me from behind, pretending not to know me, and the second eldest, Haldyr, who adored her despite everything.
Well, there’s nothing I can do.
I’m the only one who came back.
As I looked at the children gathered in front of me, I recalled what had happened a month ago.
One month after the disappearance of Duke Dylan, his will was announced.
Nobles always wrote and kept their wills in advance to prepare for any unforeseen circumstances that might arise to ensure their future and the survival of their family. Even if their life or death was not confirmed, the will would be announced for the sake of the family.
At first, those who opposed the announcement claimed that he would soon return, but as time passed, their opposition waned, and the date for the announcement was finally set.
It was exactly one week after I was acquitted.
[I will now announce the Duke’s will.
In case of any unforeseen circumstances, this will be announced.
Duchess Belladonna Dylan will lead the Dylan family on my behalf, and I delegate all my authority as Duke Dylan to Duchess Belladonna Dylan.
Duchess Belladonna Dylan will assume the same rights and responsibilities as the Duke until Kaelan comes of age at twenty and takes over. Until Kaelan assumes his duties, Duchess Belladonna Dylan will lead the Duke for three years.
If Duchess Belladonna Dylan is unable to lead the Duke due to unforeseen circumstances, Viscount Cranus, a vassal of the Duke of Dylan, and Kaelan, the first-born son, will jointly lead the Duchy.
In addition, all rights and privileges that were distributed between Viscount Cranus and Kaelan will be returned to Kaelan Dylan on the day Kaelan reaches the age of twenty.]
I respected Duke Dylan.
The Duke was the one who saved me from becoming a mess, to the point where everything I learned from my father became meaningless.
He was the one who pulled me up from the bottom, and from the time I was saved until the day I died, I thought I would repay his favor.
Since then, the Duke had been unwavering in his support for me until he disappeared, so my thoughts had become a firm determination.
[Bella, I’m sorry. I didn’t know the children would be so hostile… You have no need to feel ashamed.]
[Duke, it’s okay. You’re my benefactor. It’s nothing.]
[Thank you for saying that. In return, I will do everything I can for you as the Duke, so just accept it without saying anything.]
[Duke, you’ve done more than enough. I have nothing to give you…]
[Bella, it’s okay. This is all done out of my own desires, so don’t worry about it.]
[Duke… I’m truly grateful. I will never forget your kindness.]
The Duke continued to watch me as I kept thanking him, but his face wasn’t smiling or crying, which struck me as strange.
And since then, the Duke had often said things that were not quite clear in meaning.
[Bella, in truth, there are many hidden enemies even within the seemingly peaceful surroundings of the Duke’s estate. They might target you, so be careful.]
[If you ever find yourself in trouble or facing danger, remember what I’ve taught you all this time. It might help protect the Duke’s estate.]
Looking back now, I wonder if the Duke anticipated what would happen to him.
Since his disappearance, I gradually began to understand the things the Duke had said to me.
As if he knew this would happen to him.
‘But Duke, why did I come back.’
Thanks to the Duke, I have learned, experienced, and enjoyed many things as a duchess that I could never have dreamed of in the past.
Wherever the Duke went, he always took me with him and introduced me to anyone he happened to meet.
When I met the Emperor and Princess, I was so nervous that I couldn’t eat properly for a week beforehand and was dragged there by the Duke on the day of the meeting.
The Duke held my trembling hand at the place where I met the Emperor and Princess.
He was my savior who rescued me and lifted me up from the abyss.
Yes, that’s why I tolerated you all.
The reason I stuck to the Duke’s mansion even after Kaelan became an adult and despite the continued criticisms.
But now the story will be different.
I won’t do things for your sake as I did before, before the regression.
So things will start to change gradually from now on.
I smiled at the two of them as they stared coldly at me, with the kind expression of my late mother, so they could think that everything was normal.
In the past, when they came to visit me, I would tremble at the words of the young children who scolded me, and I could only apologize.
At that time, I thought I was afraid of the ducal position that was suddenly entrusted to me by the Duke’s will, so I hid in my room for a month and left the children alone.
But now I know.
Whether I was by the children’s side at that time or not, it didn’t matter at all.
So now, I could say it without feeling any guilt.
“Kaelan, Anna. Thank you for your concern. But I’m okay now. You were worried for nothing.”
Unlike back then, I spoke with a calm smile, without crying or trembling, and the children’s faces contorted strangely.
Rather than being annoyed by their reaction, it almost made me want to laugh.
“That’s right. Weren’t you worried?”
“Yes. If the madam thinks we’re worried, then you should be worried.”
Before I could finish, Anna cut me off.
When she saw me staying silent, perhaps thinking her words had killed my enthusiasm,
Anna continued to speak.
“By the way, you’re doing better than I thought. I thought all this time you were in your room because you were missing Uncle Ferdo…. Well, now that I see you, it doesn’t seem like you miss him. Madam.”
If it were in the past, I would have shed tears that I couldn’t hold back and revealed my wounds.
But now I answered casually.
“I need to clear my mind a bit and think about what to do next. Many things are going to change.”
“I have a lot to think about myself, so I’m sorry to you all, but I need to be alone for a while.”
Both pairs of eyes were on me.
“Kaelan, Anna, Haldyr, Reina. I believe that everyone is well aware of the difficult times we have all faced recently due to the Duke’s affairs.
However, if we can endure these difficult times, I believe that a day will surely come when things will get better for all of us, although not necessarily the same as before. And I’m sure the Duke will return safely.”
Anna openly laughed, thinking that my words were amusing to her, and Reina, who was partially hidden behind Haldyr, had a noticeable expression of disdain.
Kaelan still did not reveal his expression.
“Of course, I will do my best to uphold the Duke’s last wishes. Now I have the obligation to safeguard the Duchy.”
“It took you over a month to realize your duty to uphold Duke Ferdo’s wishes. While you stayed in your room all this time, was coming to a conclusion something that only the madam could do?”
Anna was always actively opposing my words.
I once pondered why Anna behaved so antagonistically towards me and finally came to a conclusion.
It was her way of rejecting me and implying her own affiliation with the Dylan Duchy.
Perhaps it was the uneasiness of a child not legally adopted.
In a way, before the regression, I felt a sense of camaraderie with Anna, as we both shared a similar background.
And seeing how Anna’s behavior towards me differed greatly when Duke was present or absent, I also developed sympathy.
Despite knowing that the Duke wouldn’t reject her, Anna had initially behaved warmly, but when the Duke was absent, she would immediately ignore me. This reminded me of my younger self who, despite knowing that the Duke wouldn’t reject me, foolishly felt sympathy for Anna, who had struggled to survive at a young age by not trusting those around her.
You should have had sympathy for a child who needed it.
“Of course, I feel sorry for not taking care of you all since the will was revealed. But it was my first time experiencing such a thing, and I had a lot to sort out, knowing that I had to lead the Dylan Duchy in the future. I thought you guys would naturally understand…”
As I said this, I glanced briefly at Kaelan and Anna.
Making it clear that they should naturally understand.
“I was short-sighted. You are still children who need protection.”
My words were enough to provoke the children.
As evidence, Anna showed signs of agitation and was about to speak up, but Kaelan stopped her.
Although Anna got along well with her siblings, there was always a certain boundary with Kaelan, even if they spent a long time together.
He was sharp and not the kind of child who would easily yield, which made Anna find it difficult to deal with him.
Even if she was excited as she was now, she would shut up at Kaelan’s words.
When the surroundings quieted down thanks to Kaelan, Belladonna spoke again.
“I understand that you are all anxious and confused. But let me say it again, I won’t confine myself to my room anymore.”
From now on, I won’t cling to you.
“So, don’t worry anymore.”
I’m back now.
“Now I must do what is required as the master of the estate.”
In three years, I will leave this place and find my freedom.
- 1숙부님 is a term used to refer to one’s father’s younger brother who is not married