I shut my mouth.
If I didn’t, I felt like my heart would pop out of my mouth.
‘If we become family… I can call them Mom and Dad? Is that right?’
I can call Big Bear Daddy!
‘I can also call Little Bear Big Brother!’
Joy filled my eyes in an instant.
But it was only for a moment.
“…What does the Duke think about this? Please be honest.”
I wanted to know what the Duke, who was staring at me, was thinking.
In the next second, she lowered her eyes.
That action told me all I needed to know.
My heart, which had previously soared into the sky with joy, fell to the floor.
My whole body ached as if something had cut through my very being.
“I… I don’t really know.”
The Duke whispered with a sigh.
“I know why Hel cares about you.
And I want to treat you like that, too.
But… I’m not confident that I can.
Unlike Hel… I’m afraid I’ll think of you as my lost third child.
I don’t want that to happen.
I don’t want to do that to you.”
It was a voice filled with a multitude of emotions that I couldn’t decipher.
Although I was sad and heartbroken, I was glad that the Duke told me her honest feelings.
In the end, I had no choice but to say this.
It was partially because of the Duke’s words but that was not everything.
It was because of the true reality that I had forgotten for a while.
‘I shouldn’t be deeply involved.’
I had already given my heart to the two bears.
‘However, being in an official relationship with them is another, bigger problem.’
My goal was to get rid of the Cardinal, who is now in great power.
If I somehow fail in my revenge, the people close to me will suffer greatly.
‘I can’t bother such good people.’
And, I didn’t even know if these people were truly unrelated to the Cardinal.
I spoke a little more clearly.
“I’m fine with the way we are now.
I’m fine with being just Dia*.”
I got it.”
I could feel that she felt both relieved and disappointed at my answer.
After a moment of silence, the Duke asked, “What do you plan to do in the future?”
“I want to find a job.”
“Huh? What did you just say?”
“I want to get a job.”
The Duke blinked with an incredulous expression on her face.
She then turned her head and asked Gallio who was standing next to her, “What did she just say?”
“She said that she wants to get a job.”
Gallio replied calmly.
The Duke closed her eyes and rubbed her temples with her fingers.
“…Our territory only allows kids to officially work once they turn 13.
At your age, you should be attending daycare.”
“But how about the money?”
“The daycare center is free.”
“But there are many other things aside from daycare that do need money.”
I tried to pronounce everything as best I could.
“There’s rent, food, and even clothes for when I grow bigger.
I also want to buy books… And…”
I hesitated for a moment and replied with open arms.
“I want to buy chocolate pudding from Silver Fork.
It’s very nice and delicious!”
The Duke suddenly looked fatigued.
“Well, let’s say that you do need to earn money.
What can you do?
“I’m strong and good at magic! I’m good at fighting too! I can catch monsters! I heard that you can make a lot of money by selling monsters. All I need is for you to give me a permit!”
Everything inside the territory was owned by the Lord, thus in principle, monster hunting had to be approved by the Lord.
Usually, the permit is given free of charge, but I heard that you have to pay the Lord in the form of a certain tax on the by-products of the monsters you catch.
“What’s the percentage on monster tax here?”
“That’s… quite a bit.”
“The taxes in our territory are quite high, but that’s because it’s used for welfare.”
“It provides meals for people who can’t afford to get a job, helps them pay for treatment when they’re sick, and allows the people to attend daycare centers and schools for free.”
“Wow, that’s too…!”
The Duke laughed at my response.
“Yes, it’s quite great.
But, I can’t give you a permit anyway.”
“I can see that you have a lot of mana, but you’re too small right now.
It’s better not to use mana until you’re all grown up.”
It was the same words Big Bear had spoken before.
“But I still have a long time to go before I grow up.”
“Yes, eighteen is indeed too long.
You can use it once you graduate from school.
But for now, you’re banned until you turn twelve.”
‘But I’ll be leaving when I turn ten…’
I sighed and the Duke added persistently.
“If you use it before then, you’ll be punished.”
Holding my hands together, trembling, I muttered in a small voice, “I don’t like being whipped…”
As soon as I finished my words, the Duke’s golden eyes emitted a fire of anger.
“You… Who dared whip you?” the Duke grunted.
I just bowed my head because I couldn’t answer.
“…If someone tries to use violence against you, run away immediately and tell me.”
Fortunately, the Duke didn’t ask anymore.
“Okay? Answer me.”
“It won’t be physical punishment, don’t worry.”
I breathed a long sigh of relief.
The tension and anxiety that had coursed through my body also faded.
But, I wondered what the punishment would be.
I asked, slightly raising my head.
“What kind of punishment will it be?”
The Duke looked at Gallio as if looking for advice.
Gallio responded to the Duke’s request.
“A ban on the chocolate pudding from Silver Fork.”
I screamed with my eyes wide open.
The Duke declared, “Yes.”
I became sullen.
The Duke’s eyes shook for a moment but nodded resolutely.
“Once again, don’t use magic until you’re twelve.
“Don’t say that and answer properly.”
“However, I could be attacked by a monster, fall down the stairs… and the book I want might be out of reach!”
“There will be no monster attacks inside the territory.
Both the situation with the stairs and the books can be solved by you being accompanied by a maid.
Do you need a nanny, no, a babysitter?”
“A babysitter or a nanny? No, I’m not that young.”
The Duke engulfed my entire body in a hug.
“Yes, I’d rather a maid accompany you because she’s smart.”
“I’m a commoner, so I don’t need a maid.”
“You are too young.
Commoner or not, you’re at an age where you need someone to take care of you.”
“I can eat well without spilling food.
I know how to wash by myself.
I also brush my teeth well.”
“You barely got on that couch and you’re telling me you don’t need to be taken care of?”
“A-anyway, I managed to s-sit by myself, didn’t I!”
“It took time.”
“It didn’t take long!”
Let’s say it did take time, but you could eventually sit down alone.
How about getting a book out of a high place?”
“I can do it with magic!”
“I told you! You can’t use magic because you’re too young!”
Unknowingly, my eyes narrowed as I looked at the Duke.
The Duke glared at me too.
Gallio called out to the Duke.
The Duke cleared her throat, perhaps realizing that she had been arguing with a child.
“A maid will be assigned to take care of you.”
“Listen, I’m the adult here.”
‘If you count my past life, I’m older! Well, is that really so?’
I died at the age of 18 in my previous life, and now I’m seven.
In total, I’d be 25 years old, and the Duke now was in her mid-30s.
I finally agreed.
Don’t go anywhere without your maid and don’t use magic.”
“I can’t promise to not use magic.
There might be cases where I can’t avoid it.”
The Duke looked like she was boiling mad, but nodded anyway as if she couldn’t help it.
I’ll let it slide if you can’t avoid it.
But any other time is unacceptable.
Got it? Answer me.”
“Don’t even think of getting a job anymore.
Not until you’re thirteen.”
“How will I make money then?”
“Tell me if you need money.
I’ll give you as much as you want.”
“I don’t want to be in debt.”
The Duke’s eyes were re-energized.
“Why collect debt from a five-year-old? It’s pocket money, pocket money!”
“What’s pocket money?”
It was the first time I had heard of it.
“Well, it’s… Gallio, explain.”
“Yes, pocket money is a small amount of money that an adult gives to a child at no cost.
Children who get pocket money are free to spend it as they wish.”
But why does the Duke give me pocket money?”
“Because you’re a child and our guest.
I won’t charge for things like rent, meals, clothes, etc.
It’s the rule that nobles provide food, clothing, and shelter to their guests.
Besides, I’m a Duke.
A high-ranking noble like me should treat guests with more care than others.
Pocket money is part of that.
So take it.
The Duke spoke with a strained look on her face.
I nodded because it was logical.
The Duke seemed relieved at last, but she continued, not letting go of the tension.
“Go to the daycare center starting tomorrow.
Participate only in the morning classes and get separate lessons from the Duchy in the afternoon.
Tomorrow will be your first day at the daycare center so you’ll be tired.
The separate lessons will start the day after tomorrow.”
“Yes, but lessons? Which kind?”
“Things like etiquette.”
I was appalled by the word etiquette.
“Not manners, but etiquette? I’m a commoner!”
“Even a commoner should learn basic etiquette.”
“How about I study something else?”
Before I could smile brightly, the Duke said, “Learn both etiquette and the lessons you want.
Two in a day will be hard, so take turns every other day.”
“I don’t want to learn etiquette!”
“If you don’t learn, there will be no more desserts in the future.”
“…That’s too much.”
“It’s not too much.”
“It’s too much!”
“It’s not too much!”
At Gallio’s words, the Duke sobered up again and cleared her throat with a cough.
“Listen to me.”
“Come on, come here.”
I jumped off the sofa and walked around the central table to the Duke’s front.
The Duke smiled and stared at me for a moment.
It was a look of emotion that I couldn’t understand.
Soon, the Duke smiled again and held out her right hand to me.
“Let’s get along well from now on.”
“Yes! Please take care of me!”
I bent down a little and held the Duke’s right hand with both hands.
Like Big Bear, her palm was hard yet very warm.
After Dia left, Obdolisa, Duke of Leocardia, looked down at her right hand.
There was a warm and itchy sensation left on the spot the small child held with her hands just now.
Her mind was so tangled that she couldn’t help but sigh.
Her third came to mind.
The child she had lost before she could even see her face.
‘I never imagined it would become like this…’
Twelve years ago, Obdolisa gave birth to Marciana and Juliano.
The children were quite big not only because they were twins, but also because of the characteristics of the Leocardia family.
She was forced to give birth through open surgery* when Obdolisa’s life was in danger.
Obdolisa, who wanted a big family, originally intended to have two more.
However, when she experienced danger during childbirth, Helladius opposed having a next child.
Obdolisa was only able to have a third child after persuading her husband for five straight years, and fortunately, she was in good health throughout her pregnancy.
As she entered her last month of pregnancy, they ended up having to go up to the Capital’s Imperial City.
A few days after Helladius’ hurried departure as the Lord’s deputy, Obdolisa’s third week before her due date arrived.
Obdolisa was then left in the Hwajeon Village outside the territory.
It was there she had heard some shocking news.
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