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Hrmm... tomorrow could be interesting. Shall see if things end up being posted on time, or if I decide to delay a couple of hours and just finish everything off. It's hard to say for sure yet. Currently somewhere on pg 270, so finishing everything that remains by tomorrow's posting is probably a bit dicey. ^^; However, I suspect it won't be worth splitting into two posts, so we'll see how things develop as they develop tomorrow. ^^;


The sea and the sky, the rocks along the coast and even the buildings became dyed with its colour. Together with the princess's grief, and the faint expectation she felt towards the person who tried to save until the very end, the colours dissolved and blended together, and that colour was the only thing that knew what the princess's wish was.


"The sea remembers everything. And it never forgets. For all time."

Lydia sensed someone whisper that from right next to her.

"Aeris."

Just as Lydia was unable to see her own figure, she was unable to make out Aeris's. Inside the sea's memory, only her awareness became like water and drifted there. That's how it felt.

"I neither wanted to drag my betrothed with me into sharing my fate, nor did I want to end up being bound because I was indebted to him for saving me. So I have no regrets." Her soft voice was unlike the dauntless Aeris, but was like a woman who was unsure about love. "It might be that I just wanted to know. How things might have turned out had I not let go of his hand. Is love something that can save a person, even if it means sacrificing yourself or your partner? Or is it something that drags them down to sharing the same fate? I thought either way, it was either deceit or self-gratification."

Even though she couldn't see her, Lydia sensed Aeris smile slightly.

"But the two of you were neither of those. Not to give up. That was the choice the two of you made. And it was your answer to my wish to know if a true bond existed between a man and a woman."

The image of the cityscape wavered. As though being erased by ripples on the water's surface.

"Go, Lydia. With the earl and with the members of the earl's household. You've managed to find the only way out of this city alive."

Lydia sensed the presence was about to leave and hurriedly called out to stop her. "Wait, Aeris. Please, tell me. Where is the red moonstone now? How can we go to Ibrazel? Where is Diana?"

"Impatient, aren't you? But you're the Lady of Ibrazel. You have the right to know." Her voice remained in that place. "I returned the red moonstone to Diana. Because it belongs to Ibrazel. Diana was supposed to head to England across the straight after leaving here. But the only thing I've heard from one of the denizens of the sea is that she died."

"She...... died?"

"Most likely before achieving her goal......"

"By the prince's organisation?"

"No. Apparently, she was ill."

Could she have been given that duty even though she was unwell?

"Lydia, if you're committed to marrying that earl, find the red moonstone. It's Ibrazel's greatest weapon."

"It's a weapon?"

Surprised, Lydia considered what she knew about the white moonstone. It was the moon, a bow, and it had protective powers. And on the other side, perhaps the red moonstone had the ability to attack the enemy.

"It belongs to the Ashenbert family of Ibrazel and is a weapon only men can use. That time when it left its bearer's hand, the stone coloured this coastline through its own magic. As though leaving a sign to tell its owner that it's here."

"So, even now, that sign might still be somewhere?"

"As long as it's not in the hands of the one who's meant to be its bearer, most likely the red moonstone will use its own magic in order to show where it's located. But Lydia, the earl's Arrow hasn't grown enough to be able to use the red bow. And it's questionable whether a family leader who doesn't carry the blood of the Blue Knight Earl will be able to gain much power from it."

"Even so, there's something to be gained by finding it, isn't there?"

"Most likely, it has the strength to protect your husband's soul from the prince."

If they had it, it might mean that Edgar wouldn't end up under the control of the prince's memories.

Lydia listened intently determined not to miss a single word Aeris said.

"Lydia, I'll pass map Diana carried on to you. It was sent to me as a memento, but the map to Ibrazel might be on it."

"Might be?"

"It's blank. But I've heard that it's a map. You're trying to make him the real Blue Knight Earl. And he too is trying to becoming the real thing. If that's the case, then you're the ones who should have this reminder of Diana. I pray that the door to Ibrazel opens for you."

Aeris moved to leave. Lydia vaguely realised that she couldn't stay there long.

"Now, you should go."

"Will I be able to see you again?"

The princess who had both a fae and human soul. And because of that, she'd been shunned and become the main character to a sad legend. Lydia felt that she understood Aeris's feelings a little, and that's why she'd been able to realise what her wish was. Aeris had met the lord of a fae kingdom in the distant past before his family gained the title of the Blue Knight Earl, and Lydia felt she was like a very distant relative.

Aeris chuckled. "That's a foolish question. I'll be here for eternity. But a human soul shouldn't leave its body for very long. Not to mention she's beside herself with worry."

She?

Lydia's vision wavered almost as though she were in the sea, and she caught sight of a dark shadow. She focussed on it and realised it was a kneeling woman. A woman dressed in men's clothing. No, a selkie. Lydia knew her well—it was Ermine who'd become a selkie.

"Ah, that's right. I have something for the earl in return for bringing me the key. Troops from my city to fight the prince. But be careful when you call for them because they might end up trying to kill the earl."

Aeris's troops. Most likely, they would be those mermaids. All the talk of weapons and troops was very imposing. But that's what Diana was needing for Ibrazel. So she hoped it would be something Edgar needed and that they would protect him.

"I will guide you, my lady," Ermine said.

Lydia looked at her; she was neither surprised nor did she find it strange. She and Ermine were involved in the same future. So she'd always thought that they would meet again one day.

"I thought I saw you at the hotel. It wasn't my imagination, was it?"

Ermine stood keeping her eyes averted. She then turned and started walking.

"You were with Aeris? So, you weren't with Ulysses. ......I see. Ulysses and his people can't try to do very much here. Ermine, in truth, even now you're trying to do what you can for Edgar, aren't you?"

Ermine remained silent. After a long pause, she finally spoke as though she couldn't hold back any longer. "Mrs. Lydia, please don't trust me. I might end up taking something very important away from you. ......No, in order to keep that from happening, you should do everything in your power to gain Ibrazel in its entirety......" As though waking from a dream, Ermine's figure vanished from Lydia's sight, and Lydia felt her physical senses returning. But there was one thing she knew. That Ermine was fighting for the sake of what was important to her.


***


"See, Mrs. Lydia, it suits you well."

Lydia slowly opened her eyes. She was standing in front of the mirror in an evening dress. She saw herself in a dress that was much more adult in design than what she normally wore. While she wasn't used to wearing such, she was relieved to find that it didn't look as bad as she thought it would. It was the first time for her to wear a rose red dress.

While it was a style that hid the bruises on her shoulders and arms, it was quite revealing both in the back and at the bust. While the bruises on her back hadn't fully healed yet, by gathering her hair together, curling it and letting it fall down her back, it artfully covered the bruises for her. At an evening gathering with lamps and chandeliers for lighting and with the moving shadows from her hair, it was unlikely anyone would notice the bruises.

Fighting back the desire to be less stylish, she was glad that she didn't have to wear a high-necked dress. The hairstyle Kelly came up with gave the impression of a newly married naive young girl while maintaining the grace of a married woman, and it suited Lydia perfectly right now. And more than anything, the white butterfly-shell beaded handbag that Edgar had bought for her went wonderfully with the solid red dress.

"You're right, it's wonderful, Kelly. While I can't do this dress or your skill justice, for me I look good." While the dress and purse wouldn't change dramatically, she thought she looked much more like a countess.

"Mrs. Lydia, you don't give yourself enough credit," Kelly said looking upset as she put her hand on her hip.

"Lydia, have you finished getting ready?" Edgar's voice asked.

Kelly opened the door for him, and he entered Lydia's dressing room. While it was about time she got used to seeing him in a white tie and tailcoat, she still found him too striking and couldn't help looking away.

"Are you sure about going to the party? You don't have to force yourself; it's okay to refuse. After all, you were unconscious for a full day."

That's right. When Lydia woke after being guided back from Aeris's city by Ermine, she found herself in one of the guest rooms at the hotel. Edgar and the others had all safely been swept away to the island with the old castle. Naturally, Lydia had been, too, but she alone remained unconscious. While the old woman at the castle had stated that there was no need to worry, Kelly told Lydia that Edgar had stayed with Lydia the entire day and never left her side. Lydia felt that she finally understood a little what it was that he wanted from her.

Lydia had been afraid of giving him her inexperienced and awkward love, but that was what he fervently desired. She wanted to see him for who he was and get to know him even more. She wanted to become able to envelop his past and his hurts. She'd thought that her role was as the earl's fairy doctor. And while that was important, there was something else more obvious and important. And reconsidering how to be Edgar's wife from hereon, Lydia was putting in her best effort in getting ready and facing the party.

"I'm okay. There's nothing wrong with me." She raised her faced and looked directly at Edgar. With his bright blond hair, she'd never imagined that the man she would marry would be so strikingly handsome. He gazed at her gently with his ash-mauve eyes, and that alone was enough to make her cheeks flush. He came closer and looked at her from up close.

"You'd agreed to tonight's party some time ago, right?"

One of his English aristocrat acquaintances was staying at their country house here on the pink granite coast. When Edgar had told them that he was planning on staying at a nearby hotel, they mentioned they were holding a party and invited him.

"Well, that's true," he replied absent-mindedly. He stared at Lydia so intently making her nervous.

I guess I still can't wear this kind of dress quite yet. Among the evening dresses she'd had made as part of her trousseau, she thought this one was the most beautiful but also the most difficult to wear. She wanted to wear it when she became a more fully-grown lady. Lydia didn't know what Kelly was thinking when she included it in the luggage for their trip, but since it was there, Lydia wanted to try it on. While Kelly had complimented her, perhaps it looked strange in Edgar's eyes.

"Um, Edgar, if you don't like this, I can change into a different dress......"

Lydia started to back away, but Edgar suddenly wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her to him making her fall against him. She felt his fingers as they ran along her nape, and he pressed his lips to her shoulder. Putting one hand to the back of her neck so that Lydia couldn't move, his lips traced a line from her throat to the hollow of her collar bone. Lydia shivered when she felt him lick her, and she quickly tried to move away.

"Edgar...... wait......"

"Master, kindly don't muss her hair now that it's been nicely done up. Also, what are you going to do if you end up leaving a mark on your wife's skin?!"

Edgar took his lips off of Lydia at the sound of Kelly's voice, and Lydia turned more and more red when she realised Kelly had seen them. Unlike Edgar, Lydia didn't think she could get used to the idea of acting as though the servants weren't present.

"Would it be okay if it's somewhere not obvious?" Edgar asked looking at Lydia with a straight face.

"Eh?"

"Leaving a kiss mark." Edgar said as he ran a finger along the bust line of her dress that was slightly more revealing than usual.

"O-of course not! What a thing to ask!"

Lydia hurriedly pulled away from him. But he pulled her to him again.

"Oh dear, I no longer want to go out."

"Master, what are you talking about?! The missus has worked so hard to get ready, yet you intend to put all that effort to waste?!" Kelly protested.

"Eh? You mean she didn't get dressed up for my sake?"

"Of course, she did. It's to show everyone how fortunate you are to have such a beautiful wife."

Though Edgar seemed, even now, like he was about to ruin all their work at getting Lydia dressed up in that dress, Kelly managed to ward him off completely.
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