Before the regression, most of the memories associated with the children were not good, but that doesn’t mean that all the memories were bad.
There were times when I received unexpected help and encountered people who approached me with pure kindness.
I must have been able to endure because I had occasional moments to catch my breath.
If I were to pick a recent event, it was the day after my return when a trial was held at the imperial court regarding the Duke’s disappearance.
Based on the testimonies of the Duke’s servants and children, it was proven that I was only in the Duke’s residence on the day the Duke disappeared, and there were no special outings before that.
The testimony was verified by a mage skilled in reading people’s true intentions, confirming the witnesses’ honesty. And soon it was concluded that I had no connection to the disappearance of Duke Ferdo.
But nobles from other factions who doubted me began to stir up trouble, causing a momentary commotion in the courtroom.
Up to this point, the situation was the same whether it was before or after my return.
Before the regression, I just stood silently without saying a word, and the nobles were busy tearing me apart.
And then, someone who had been indifferent to me helped me.
It was Grand Duke Avelon.
The Grand Duke stood up and overwhelmed the audience with his low, thick voice that made anyone feel bad about criticizing me.
[Those who dare to question the verdict must bring forth undeniable evidence to make such claims. That’s why you can be so rude to the Duchess, who has been declared innocent.]
Thanks to the Duke, the trial was concluded, and I immediately went to the children who had helped me, but Kaelan was talking to the nobles of the same faction, and Haldyr and Reina had already left, talking to the people of the Magic Tower.
When I went to where the children were, there was only Anna left alone, unable to belong anywhere, looking at me with unfriendly eyes.
I couldn’t easily speak to her and just stood quietly next to her, cautiously thanking her.
But there was no reply.
After my return, facing this commotion once again, I couldn’t hold back and confronted them unlike before.
[Do you dare to question the power of Magic Tower, which was recognized by the imperial family and witnesses? If you have any objections to the verdict, you can bring solid evidence. Is it appropriate to treat me so rudely, who was declared innocent in the trial?]
At first, they seemed slightly taken aback by my newfound determination, and for a moment, they stopped talking. But soon enough, their wounded pride got the better of them, and they began raising their voices again, probably because their pride had been hurt by what I had said, which they had been ignoring.
And the person who managed to calm down the chaos in the now chaotic courtroom was the person I had expected.
It was the Grand Duke, just like before the regression.
[Is there anything wrong with the Duchess’s words?]
But unlike before the regression, it was just one sentence.
But with that one line, similar as before, the courtroom became quiet, and the trial was concluded safely.
I was grateful to the Grand Duke who helped me this time as well, but I had to feel bitter about the fact that even if I said the same thing, I would be ignored, but if he said it, it would be accepted, which made me realize my position among the nobles.
And after that, unlike before, I didn’t go to the children after the trial was completely over. Instead, I followed the Grand Duke, who had already left his seat.
When I called out to him, I caught a glimpse of him as he turned toward me, as if time had stood still.
Every tiny movement of his robes was vividly etched into my eyes.
Even the moment when his hand, clenched into a fist, and his rough but long and straight fingers that stretched out at once.
[What’s the matter.]
Only after hearing the Grand Duke’s voice did I clearly see him wearing a black mask with a bird picture engraved on it in front of me.
[Glory to the Crosen Empire. Grand Duke, I just wanted to thank you for helping me earlier—.]
[That’s enough. I just said what I thought.]
The Grand Duke was just as rumored.
Adequately cold, maintaining a certain distance, which arrogantly fits his position.
But he didn’t insult or ignore people recklessly.
I thought it was better not to hold onto the Grand Duke who had no intention of continuing the conversation with me.
Thinking that she had conveyed her intention for coming, she lifted the hem of her skirt and bowed her head, bending her knees lightly.
[I have taken up your time, Grand Duke.]
[No, you haven’t.]
The Grand Duke nodded his head lightly towards me and turned his body back, walking away with long strides, gradually increasing the distance between us.
I whispered to myself in a small voice behind the Grand Duke who had moved away.
For helping me before and now.
A faint, tickling voice reached the Grand Duke’s ear as he walked away from Bella, carried by the wind like a whisper.
Upon hearing that voice, he was reminded of himself, focusing on the dusty girl lying in disarray on the ground.
In that space filled with shallow breaths that seemed like they could fade away at any moment, only the girl’s violet eyes shone brightly and caught his attention.
And the small voice she slowly uttered seemed to ring in his ears at the same time as the voice of the Duchess.
The Grand Duke quickened his steps as if he might stop involuntarily, putting more force into his stride as he distanced himself from the Duchess.
The long, brown hair that swayed gracefully with a hint of turbulence and those deep violet eyes belonged to a girl who was no longer there, while he remained alive.
That child is no longer here.
Bella stood still in her place until the Grand Duke’s coat disappeared from sight.
Only after his figure disappeared completely could Bella move her footsteps.
I carefully lowered the teacup in my hand onto the table, recalling the past.
The wind blowing through the window felt refreshing, and the warm ylang tea was fragrant.
The cozy atmosphere made me feel sleepy, and I felt like I was floating in the sky, which was enough to make me satisfied.
Spending time drinking tea alone in my room was something that rarely happened before my regression.
After the Duke died, I had no one on my side, and those who coveted the position of Duchess always belittled me.
To protect the four children and the Duchy, I couldn’t have time to myself.
I was afraid that if I spent time resting alone, someone would look down on me.
[Madam. Why don’t you take a little rest.]
[Butler, I don’t have time for that right now. I heard that Lord Taran visited the palace yesterday. I can’t afford to rest.]
[But if you keep pushing yourself–]
[Don’t worry. I know my body best.]
I even doubted the butler who recommended that I take a break.
With so much work piled up, how could he suggest I rest?
Is he trying to ruin my reputation?
As my body grew tired, my mind also began to deteriorate.
Because of this, I didn’t accept kindness graciously and turned away from the servants of the Duke’s estate, focusing only on my duties and the children.
Even while working, I tried to invest a lot of time and effort in changing the hearts of the children who seemed antagonistic towards me. But their hostility towards me remained strong, and they continued to refuse me until the end.
Waiting for a love that would never return gradually ate away at me.
[Butler, where are the children now? I’d like to have a meal together.]
At first, I didn’t know where the children were, so I always asked the butler, and every time, the butler told me where they were.
[Only Miss Reina is in the mansion, but she’s skipping lunch and sleeping because she’s tired.]
[Really? Well, then, I should bring something to her room–]
Butler, are you out of your mind? How can you say that to me?
I’d rather starve and die than eat with that woman.
I absolutely won’t eat!! Just tell her I’m going to sleep.
Hey, you! Go get lunch and bring it to my room. I’ll eat in there.
[Madam, it’s okay to skip a meal once in a while. You came back quite late after your outing yesterday, so it’s better to rest.]
[I see. I can’t help it.]
As time passed and I realized how difficult it was for the butler to manage the situation between the children and me, I decided to approach the children myself and ask.
I knew it wouldn’t be easy.
[Kaelan, do you have any plans for today–]
Kaelan left before I could finish my sentence, and I just waved my hand while watching Kaelan’s back.
I didn’t expect a response, but I felt a little hurt by the cold way he left, although I couldn’t express it.
Despite Kaelan’s rejection, I regained my composure and went to find Anna.
[Anna, are you busy?]
[Oh, madam. Why did you come all the way here? You must be busy for no reason.]
[Oh… thank you for worrying about me. By the way, Anna, how about having lunch together today?]
I always pretended not to know what things meant even though I knew they were not good.
I thought it was best to endure because if I didn’t accept gracefully, it might lead to an argument.
I am a Duchess, and Anna is still a child.
[I’m going to have lunch with Haldie and Reina today.]
[Really? How about we all eat together?]
[Well, I’m not sure if the others will be okay with that.]
[Well, since I’m a little busy, would you mind going and asking them yourself?]
[Oh, sorry for bothering you when you’re busy. Let’s talk later.]
[Yes. If you can, that would be great.]
Perhaps I should have noticed something strange about Anna, who was smiling more than usual.
[Hello? Can I–]
[Why did you come to Reina’s room?]
[At least a greeting would be nice, Reina.]
Reina refused as usual, and only Haldyr, who was with her, greeted me hesitantly.
[I heard from Anna that you’re going to have lunch together. I want to buy dessert. What do you like–]
[What are you talking about? You’re not saying that we’re going with us, are you?]
[Huh? Yeah. Kaelan went out, so I thought it would be nice for us nice people to eat together–]
[It’s nice to eat together. It’s been a while since we had lunch together as a family–]
Before I finished my sentence, Reina’s face turned red, and she screamed at me.
[Who said we’re family!!!]
I tried to interpret their words, filled with malice, as positively as possible and avoided conflicts as if I were clueless, not because I was truly unaware.
If I had done that, I wouldn’t have been so hurt.
If I smile and accept as much as possible, someday the children will appreciate my efforts.
But even that didn’t happen as I wished.
Only when all the children refused to meet did I finally realize that they had no intention of opening their hearts.
As I set down the empty tea cup, I savored the lingering scent of ylang tea in my mouth.
I wish I had known it would be this enjoyable. I would have tried to take breaks before my return.
I wanted recognition in everything that bore the Duke’s trace, and I longed to be embraced as part of the family.
So, I gave my all for the Duchy’s sake during my one lifetime, and the Bella who put in all that effort died trying.
I’ve done all I could.
I will let go of what needs to be let go and keep what needs to be kept.
Following the Duke’s last wish, I will protect the Duke’s estate until Kaelan becomes an adult.
So, my dear children.
For you, this should be good news.
You will no longer have the attention that you have always rejected.