When she said it out loud, it made it feel more real. It felt like her love had come to an end.
“There was a time when I really, really thought that even if I were to give you my whole life, it wouldn’t be a waste. But when I already gave it to you, I realized.”
I realized how stupid I was for giving you control over my life. I didn’t know until we got married.
“I don’t love you. I do not wish to go back to Ronen with you.”
Ophelia was resolute on this, but as she already knew, the other person was equally as inflexible.
Even as Ophelia said all that, Ian wouldn’t let go of her hand.
“…It’s okay if you don’t love me. Ophelia, if not for me, you’ll have to enter a political marriage. You don’t like me, but will you choose that path instead?”
She didn’t want that either. But the hushed voice that was pleading to her made her bristle inwardly.
Just as he said, Ophelia was in the precarious position of having to enter an unwanted political marriage in the near future.
And it would be King Kschent’s second marriage.
Perhaps the old king didn’t wish to endure being alone even though his death wouldn’t be too far away. Although the Crown Prince of Kschent was around the same age as Ophelia, the old king remorselessly asked Milescet for a princess.
And Milescet wouldn’t be able to refuse one national marriage when the other side was an aggressive country like Kschent.
In other words, there was no reason to endanger the country’s peace when it could be maintained by selling a single person.
When the marriage proposal arrived from Kschent, there was no one who didn’t know what intentions each side had.
And that included Ian.
“No matter how much you dislike me, I will be better than the other option. Use me instead. I can be of use to you.”
“…So it’s that. You want me to marry you again?”
And at this, Ophelia was truly dumbfounded.
Just because she didn’t want the political marriage, she should use him?
How much of a joke was she to him that he could say something like this.
Both astounded and amused, Ophelia asked.
“Ian. You once asked me if our marriage was no better than a marriage of convenience. Do you remember?”
Ian didn’t answer.
Maybe he didn’t remember, or maybe he had enough decency not to answer because he knew it.
Either way, it didn’t matter. The anger she felt was the same.
“Didn’t you say something like that to utterly insult me? But I didn’t think that you meant to bring me down to that extent.”
If it weren’t for Ian, Ophelia would have stayed as someone who would only be sold off in a political marriage, so it might have been an insult just to hurt her pride.
“So now that you’ve suggested this without any hesitation, I now realize that you meant it.”
“But even if you weren’t in that kind of situation, you still would have chosen me.”
In an instant, the sight before her changed and became unfamiliar for a moment.
Perhaps it was because, out of all the sides she had seen of Ian thus far, this was the most hurt that she saw him.
Like a reef, sharp and uneven, his elegant features were embroiled in agony.
And because his black hair covered his forehead, it looked like he was under the shadows.
A deep sadness that was unknown—it continued to be by Ian’s side ever since she met him again, and it affected the atmosphere.
“You didn’t want me in the beginning… It wasn’t like that for me.”
He was right. Ophelia did not want him. No matter how much Ian pursued her, Ophelia’s answer would have been the same.
Because Ophelia couldn’t afford to love someone.
This half noble bloodline was nothing but a shackle.
She couldn’t fit in anywhere, and she couldn’t lead a life temperate enough that she could trust anyone comfortably.
Just a few days before she had met Ian, Ophelia had been mocked at Hydar’s banquet.
But how could Ian possibly understand these things?
He never had to experience such things, and so he wouldn’t understand…
While Ophelia couldn’t say anything for a moment, Ian seemed to be contemplating something as he shook his head again.
“No, even if you don’t want me, I don’t care anymore. Just… just as long as I have you…”
With his expression crumpled, he rambled on like a crying child. It was something that she had never seen him do before.
Only then did Ophelia’s eyes truly discern what state Ian was in.
Unstable. It was a word that would not have fit the Ian she once knew.
He’s dangerous. And that’s why this oddly strong desire looked more obsessive.
Just what happened?
The question was lodged in her throat. She couldn’t bring herself to utter the words.
Rather than being scared that she might get hit by this strange Ian, after listening to him speak in this way, what she was more afraid of was him crossing a certain line.
It struck her, this thought that he might treat this momentary flash of emotion as something eternal.
‘That could never happen.’
Just the thought was horrifying.
With his judgement skewed, compared to Ophelia’s greedy father and compared to the temple, Ian would truly be a more difficult obstacle to overcome.
‘Besides, Ariel can’t be saved if it’s like this.’
If Ariel were to be asked if she loved Ian, she certainly wouldn’t deny it.
She would somehow come to the surface again to meet Ian, and it was obvious that this would end in a tragedy one way or another.
It won’t work like this.
The more Ophelia talked to Ian, the more she felt that these unnamed emotions were festering inside her.
She no longer loved Ian. However, her years as the Grand Duchess of Ronen still clung to her like mud.
The more she talked to him, the more she would be entangled with him.
Ophelia had a hunch about this.
And so, she ran away from Ian immediately.
Ian’s hand seemed as though it wouldn’t let go of her until the end, and so she grabbed it and shoved it off her…
Ophelia stood still in the middle of the hallway, looking down at her empty hands.
It was still playing in her mind, the way she shook off his hand, which was larger than hers.
It was the hand of the person she loved and longed for so much, once upon a time.
The moment she shook his hand off, she recalled the way his expression expressed his regrets.
She didn’t think anyone could look that devastated, even if she had instead let go of him at the edge of a cliff.
The unfamiliar reaction surprised her, but it did not elicit her curiosity.
The memory of losing Ophelia before must have made him so desperate.
‘I thought there wouldn’t be any difference even if I died.’
She had no idea whether to be delighted or miserable about this change.
Ophelia had stood still for a long time, and so she took a step.
However, it wasn’t towards her own room.
The door opened soon after the light knock. And there, she saw the person she had been with just an hour ago.
Whenever she was driven into a corner, for some reason it was by his side that she’d find herself.
Like a fish out of water, Ophelia called his name with a breathless voice.
Certainly, until a while ago, it was too much to even breathe.
It was strange to feel this unexpected relief the moment she met him.
However, the reason Ophelia visited Alei wasn’t just to feel such a shallow relief.
Pressing a hand against her pounding chest, she opened her lips.
“We need to move up the plan.”
* * *
“So then, because there’s someone trying to hold you back, it would cause a huge nuisance, so we have to move up the plan?”
“You summarized it well. That’s right.”
“It’s my first time not feeling happy after hearing a compliment.”
Alei frowned for some reason, lightly ruffling his hair. It was much more disheveled now than it was a while ago.
Indeed, his forehead continued to be wrinkled, never having a chance to smooth out ever since he met Ophelia.
Ophelia might not know, but since they parted ways about an hour ago, Alei had been agonizing by himself all throughout that time.
Because what she told him made him uneasy. Anxious.
Of course, it hadn’t been just one or two times that Ophelia complicated his feelings like this, but this time, it was different.
Because of what she mentioned about the conditional magic on her.
—I swallowed a mermaid’s scale in the past. And to solve it, I needed to meet that mermaid.
Because of that mermaid scale.
Throughout his conversation with Ophelia about the conditional magic, her expression had hardened little by little.
After their talk, she ran out while saying that it was helpful, but her expression wasn’t that much different.
Sitting alone in the room after she left, Alei felt devastated.
He really, truly couldn’t help her, and this was the truth.
And because of this, Alei despised himself terribly.
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