Here, a little distance away from the palace, there was a suffocating atmosphere.
Walking up the stairs, we were greeted by the sight of a room surrounded by a metal cage.
“This is the place, Iris.”
There was a woman standing where Lady Letticia pointed.
I inhaled sharply at the sight of her.
Of course she still looked like herself, but in another way she was completely different.
Skinny, dry-haired, dull skin, and eyes red from crying that just stared upwards.
“It’s been a long time, Lady Yuri.”
Considering I couldn’t show my shock through my voice, I purposefully spoke to her in a calm tone.
“It’s been a while, Lady Iris.”
She chuckled, looking at me.
“Why did you summon me?”
“Nothing. I just wanted to see you before I died.”
Her cold gaze and smile was something I’d never seen before, but it didn’t seem out of the ordinary on her face.
Finally she was showing her true colors.
“Are you satisfied then?”
I smiled sarcastically too.
“Who knows…it’s a little less interesting than I thought it would be.”
“Ah, this really is…”
Why the hell did you call me here then? I didn’t ask the question on my mind.
“Then can you let me ask you a few questions?”
She didn’t confirm or deny, so I took that as acceptance.
“Did you ever love Prince Edward?”
“What’s the use in knowing that?”
The moment I said that, she smiled.
Her face was full of contempt for me as she opened her mouth wide.
She looked almost scary, sending chills down my spine.
“What are you saying? You don’t want to admit someone you’ve loved was stolen by a woman who just wanted to use him?”
Well, look who suddenly became a lot more talkative.
“You already know the answer to that. I worked on behalf of the Towair Kingdom to engulf this country in chaos, attacking the highest nobility in this nation.”
“Yes, that has become clear now.”
“How does that make you feel? He died to protect me, saying he died for the person he loved. He loved me. How does it feel to force him into engagement without really earning his love? You must be resentful. Hate me now…”
Her words were sharp.
But it felt like she wasn’t hurting me with her words. She was hurting herself.
“Tell me you’re resentful…tell me you hate me!”
She grabbed onto the bars of the cage.
We were close enough to touch each other.
“It’s like you’re saying you love him.”
She raised her head suddenly in response.
“Ha? What the hell are you talking about?”
Her condescending attitude made me laugh.
“Am I wrong? What you said was basically a confession of love. That’s what it sounded like to me.”
She didn’t respond to what I said.
I assumed she would respond with more verbal attacks to deny this, no matter what the truth was.
I stared at her. And then tears began to flow from her eyes.
She really did love him.
Any words were less convincing than her current state.
“W-what are you saying, I don’t understand.”
She lowered her head.
Although I had been staring at her for a while, she didn’t seem inclined to budge at all.
“I’ve never been resentful. Our engagement was something from the past. Our paths diverged then. No matter what happened to him from then on was not something I needed to know.”
When I said that she raised her head to glare at me.
“Plus, Prince Edward selected you, the one whom he loved the most. No matter what you think about it, he protected the person he loved. He died happy. Out of mourning, it’s impossible to hate someone on behalf of not loving him.”
“Your expression of understanding is obnoxious.”
I cracked half a smile at her bitter words.
“Even if you find it obnoxious…”
“Ever since you were born, you’ve had everything! Money, status, people surrounding you. I hate you!”
Screaming, she shook the cages so hard they groaned like they were crying.
“And so you attack me?”
“Hmph…it felt really good.”
She smiled happily. It was a dark smile.
“Is that so.”
Thinking about the fact that this rationale was enough for her to pick on me like that, I felt the heat of anger rise in my chest.
Frustrations differed by person and look so completely unusual to anyone on the outside.
Even knowing that, I couldn’t forgive completely as the victim of the situation.
“How are you different from me? I’m also beautiful, I’m also capable of gathering the hearts of others! To prove that, Prince Edward chose me! So why am I here now…”
Her screeching broke the last thread maintaining my rationality.
I raised my hand like I was going to slap her in the face.
But even so, the cage between us made it impossible to reach her.
In contrast, my hand struck the cage and ached immensely.
The cage rattled, as if crying out on my behalf.
What the hell was she doing…I’m sure everyone around me wore that expression. Even Yuri looked dumbfounded. My heart hurt more than my hand.
“If I were the one to comment on it, I’d have to say I’m completely different from you.”
“What? Your position in society? Or your luck?”
“Who the hell is going to talk about something like that? You only kept people around you to use them. I trust the people in my life.”
“What’s the difference!”
Without hesitation I burst out laughing.
It seems like this only aggravated her suffering. Her glare at me became even sharper.
“Do you understand what I’m talking about? When you use someone, you abandon them easily whenever they’re causing you inconvenience. People who still approach you under those circumstances aren’t interested in placing their trust in you. They want to use you too.”
Somehow those words shut her up.
Seems like I was right on.
“Trust means believing in them and relying on them. You should only rely on people if you trust them. Trustworthy people are not replaceable in my life. If something happens, I’ll risk everything to protect them! So don’t you dare compare us.”
Because I was crying out in rage, my breathing became uneven.
When I took a deep breath to calm myself, she spoke quietly.
Her voice was so quiet I didn’t hear it over the sound of my own breathing.
“Why can you trust? After everything’s happened to you, you shouldn’t be able to trust anyone anymore.”
“Do you mean the engagement? Or the merchants’ guild? Or…”
“Everything. But if I had to pick one, the engagement. The feeling of being thoroughly rejected by someone you love, and even your family turning against you.”
Her question was one I’d asked myself countless times. But somehow the question was almost humorous coming from her.
“Yes. I did become afraid to trust. But my companions from the past have responded to me by saying it’s okay, that they’ll stay with me no matter what. It’s brought me out of my fearfulness.”
I had been afraid of trusting and then being betrayed again.
My heart had been wounded so deeply.
Because I was afraid of others seeing my weakness, I pretended to be fine.
The people who tore that facade down was everyone I’d trusted since childhood and Dean.
“I still fear people now, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing to trust. If I were paralyzed by the fear of trusting others, I’d be forgetting everything I went through with the important people in my life, when a little courage was enough to give me so much.”
I gazed at Tanya while I said this. She smiled proudly in response.
“But you might be betrayed again…?”
“Yes. It might happen. But living in fear of that means not moving forward. If you’re looking past beautiful things for the sake of fear, you’re only missing out. Plus, this world is not so gentle that people can live without getting hurt. The only thing you can do when you’re hurt is to keep living, keep surviving.”
She laughed out loud as she said that.
It was almost like a demon leaving her body.
“In the end, I really do hate you after all.”
I couldn’t help but laugh too.
“I don’t like you either.”
“That’s right. If you ever said you didn’t dislike me that would frankly be disgusting to me.”
We both smiled.
“Hey…Iris, what does it mean to love someone?”
“Who knows. It’s something you can’t explain. But if you feel like that person’s more special than anyone else…no matter what form that affection takes, I think that’s love.”
Her face, looking like it was about to burst into tears, twisting into a smile instead.
“I’m an idiot. When I lost him, that’s when I realized he was something special to me.”
“You’re right. You are an idiot.”
I was still smiling. But thanks to her, I almost wanted to cry too.
“There were so many opportunities for me to communicate that to him. But now it’s too late. I am, we really are idiots.”
When I said this, her eyes went wide.
“I’m not talking about Prince Edward. Of course, I mourn his death too.”
“What are you mourning?”
Her voice trembled when she asked.
“For Prince Edward?”
She nodded quietly.
“Even if it’s someone you hated from the bottom of your heart, you can’t keep hating them after they die. Instead of bottling up your hatred, you might as well remember your good memories together. It’s better for the people who survive. That’s what my subordinate told me. Although I hated him from the bottom of my heart when he was alive, we had good memories too. Right now that means I can only pray for him.”
Her tears spilled forth.
“I thought no one else in this world would still grieve him, after Queen Ellia and Marquis Maelia passed. And I…”
“I will mourn him. Also, there might still be more people out there that you don’t know of who are mourning him. Humans are complex. We aren’t just single-sided.”
“Is that so…that’s great. I hope his name isn’t just something to mock.”
Watching her cry as she said this, I almost felt my tears flowing out too.
That’s how she loved him in the end.
She feared his name being associated with evil.
Instead of thinking about herself, she cared more for his reputation. If that wasn’t love, what was it?
“Iris, you should go home. Your majesty, I’ll tell you everything.”
When she finally managed to stop her tears, her expression was determined.
“I see. It was good to see you, Lady Yuri.”
I had nothing more to say now.
“Good to see you, Lady Iris.”
She smiled gently. It was a smile from her past.
And with that I left.