Chapter 29.2

Chewing and swallowing caused her unbearable pain, as if a sizable rock were lodged in her throat. Her stomach felt suffocated, likely a consequence of excessive tension, while her shoulders ached, possibly due to the unresolved healing of her arm or the stress of the situation. In an unfortunate moment, her grip faltered, and the fork slipped from her fingers, clattering loudly upon the floor.

Embarrassed, Elena hastily leaned to the side to retrieve the fallen utensil.

“Leave it,” Serin intervened swiftly, seizing Elena’s arm as Lassino retrieved the fallen fork, promptly replaced by an attentive attendant. A rosy hue tinted Elena’s face as she bowed her head in embarrassment.

“It seems the guest of His Grace is not familiar with table manners,” Hazel remarked, taking a sip of wine and fixing an amused gaze on Elena. Serin countered with a stern growl, challenging Hazel’s amusement. “Even if she is not familiar with table manners, it doesn’t affect her ability to eat.”

“That’s right. It might not matter for commoners or peasants. However, Miss Elena, who is currently not a noble, looks every bit like a noble lady. Moreover…” Hazel trailed off, her fingertip lightly tracing the lower part of her wine glass, a sly smile playing on her lips. “If one is a guest of His Grace residing in this castle, shouldn’t they know at least basic table manners? It would enhance His Grace’s image in the eyes of the servants.”

Hazel’s smile held a hint of suspicion as she seemingly questioned Elena’s background. “So, Your Highness,” she leaned towards Kennard, their hands raised, fingers nearly touching. Elena felt a figurative tightening around her neck, the subtle distance between the two conveying an unspoken tension. Despite her attempt to avert her gaze, her eyes involuntarily fixated on the fingertips almost touching.

Distracted, Elena struggled to grasp Hazel’s words. “During Elena’s stay in Terra Demorte, it would be nice if she could be my companion, if only for a while,” Hazel proposed, catching Elena off guard. Turning towards Elena, Hazel smiled before redirecting her attention to Kennard. “I could teach Miss Elena noble etiquette. What do you think, Your Highness?”

Desperation filled Elena’s eyes as she gazed at Kennard, silently pleading for him to deem such lessons unnecessary. However, Kennard remained stoically silent, his only action being a sip of water and a casual wipe of his mouth with a napkin as he stood.

Serin, mirroring Kennard’s movements, rose to his feet. “If there’s no answer, can we take it as acceptance?” Hazel pressed, causing Kennard to halt his departure. Slowly turning around, he met Hazel’s gaze, completely ignoring Elena. She stared blankly at Kennard’s side profile, realizing that, except for her initial entrance, he had yet to acknowledge her presence.

“I remember having told you to return to the capital,” Kennard asserted.

“As Your Highness is aware, unlike the capital, Terra Demorte has experienced heavy snowfall, and both horses and servants are quite exhausted. The carriage also needs repairs. Returning would be a long journey, so we need sufficient time to rest,” Hazel explained, attempting to justify their prolonged stay.

“Hasn’t there been enough rest by now? I heard the carriage repairs are almost done. As soon as they are finished, return immediately,” Kennard ordered before abruptly leaving the dining room. Serin shot a glance at Elena, sighed, and followed his master.

Amidst the lingering tension, Lassino and the attendants maintained their positions. Hazel and Carmen resumed their meals as if the exchange had never occurred, the dining room returning to a semblance of normalcy despite the unspoken turmoil.

Setting down her fork and knife, Elena brought the water glass to her lips. A tremor ran through her hand, causing ripples in the water. Struggling to control the quiver, she discreetly placed her other hand beneath the table.

“You shouldn’t lower your hand under the table while holding a glass,” Hazel admonished, her gaze piercing as she scrutinized Elena. Starting from Elena’s head, Hazel conducted a deliberate examination, exhaling slowly as if issuing an invitation to listen.

“When will you do it?” Hazel inquired, her question leaving Elena baffled. Attempting to feign ignorance, Elena ignored the uneasy feeling gnawing at the back of her mind.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m talking about becoming my companion. You’ll have to learn etiquette from me.”

“But His Highness hasn’t given consent…”

“But he hasn’t expressly forbidden it either,” Hazel interjected, her words striking a chord of accuracy. While she had discussed returning to the capital with Elena, there had been no explicit approval or disapproval concerning Elena’s potential etiquette lessons.

“As I mentioned before, I am not a noble. So, I don’t see the need to learn noble etiquette,” Elena replied slowly, choosing her words carefully to maintain composure and prevent her voice from trembling.

“Is that so? Then just be my companion.”

“If being a companion means that Carmen…”

“If you don’t like that, then accompany me openly.”

“What?” Elena responded with surprise, her mouth agape at the unexpected statement. Hazel’s declaration lingered in the air, and Elena, still processing the revelation, stared at Hazel in disbelief. “If you didn’t hear it, I’ll say it again. While I’m staying here, you’ll be my companion.”



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