I’d estimate that there are about thirty kilometres between the Sfir mansion and our home in Muhle. Previously, it would’ve taken us three hours to travel this distance, but with the upgraded carriage and highway system, it now only takes us two hours.
It was now a couple of days after Crane’s visit. Sofia, Claire, Alice, and I were all riding together to the Sfir mansion.
By the way, Liz was left in the city of Muhle.
She said this to me before we left,
“You’re terrible for forcing me to be the only one to stay behind, onii-sama!”
However, Liz still has her job of freezing and cooling perishables and it would be a difficult time for her to leave considering it’s the summer.
…that’s not to say we plan on relying on Liz forever. We’d obviously be in trouble if she were to decide to go home or if she ever gets sick.
Currently, we’re improving the insulated box and the freezer. We’re also proceeding with plans to position mages at each relay point.
With just a little more effort, Liz will have more time for herself.
Anyway, we arrived at the Sfir mansion for the first time in a while. Sophia’s older brother, Eric, who had become Earl after Carlos’ death, greeted us.
“I’m glad to see you’ve all arrived in good health. As the head of the Sfir family, I welcome you to my home. Sophia, you’ve grown a lot since we last saw each other.”
“Eric onii-chan, it’s been a while.”
Sophia ran forward and hugged Eric and he embraced her back.
I think they were close in the past, but now that Sophia has overcome her trauma, it seems that they’re able to rebuild their relationship.
“ — What is this feeling? Seeing how close those two are, it’s causing my chest to hurt. Sophia is my sister-in-law….”
I heard someone muttering this behind me. When I turned around, I could see Alice laughing.
“…oi, don’t just start monologuing behind me like that.”
“I’m just giving voice to your true feelings.”
“You’re wrong. I’m not jealous of Sophia’s real brother.”
“Are you perhaps jealous that Sophia gets to hug Eric?”
I didn’t even respond to her question — as I turned away and headed over to Eric, I could hear her laughing behind me.
“Hey, Leon. You look well.”
“I’m glad to see you looking so healthy too. I saw it on the way here, but the Sfir territory seems to be developing well.”
“It’s thanks to the students you sent from your school. Because of them, the situation within our territory has vastly improved.
“Is that so? I’m happy to have been of service to you.”
Actually — well, rather obviously — due to the Sfir territory being located next to the Grances territory, they were also heavily impacted by the flu and famine.
And if the Sfir home were to collapse, we’d no longer receive reparations from them. For that reason, we continued to support the Sfir family.
“I can’t thank you enough, Leon.”
“It wasn’t exactly selfless, so there’s really no need to thank me. I’m sure you were informed of this before our arrival, but the reason we’re visiting today….”
“You wished to visit my father’s grave and…to speak with Mother.”
He hesitated when bringing up Elyse.
“Do you think that’s a bad idea?”
“That’s right…. To be honest, I’m against that idea. However, if Sophia wishes to see her…I’ll allow it.”
Eric also seems conflicted. Just like Claire, he’s unsure of whether this is a good idea.
“I understand your worries, but Sophia and I are both trying to face the past. If possible, I’d also like to speak with her.”
“…I understand, but it will take some time to prepare for the visit. I’d suggest visiting the grave beforehand.”
“All right…. Sophia, let’s visit the grave first. Will everyone else be coming as well?”
“Wait just a moment. Can you lend me Claire for a while?”
I don’t mind but why would he need her. And I turned to Claire.
“You have business with me?”
“Yeah. I’d like to discuss future policies with you….”
“Okay…ah, is it about cleansing farmland in your territory? All right, I don’t mind. Otouto-kun, I’ll discuss things with Eric, you go on ahead.”
So Sophia, Alice, and I left to visit the grave.
We travelled to a deserted corner of the Sfir home. It was a rather lonely area, a place not at all fitting for the grave of the former head of the family.
This is only my guess, but…they’ve probably done this after considering how we would feel.
To the average citizen, Carlos was the saviour of the Grances family that gave his own life to protect us. However, in reality, he was a murderer that killed my family.
Sophia knelt down at the foot of the grave and sat there silently with her eyes closed. Alice and I watched her from a little ways away.
I’m trying to imagine what she’s thinking now.
Sophia killed her father and his subordinate Regis.
Carlos and Regis both committed crimes worthy of being put to their deaths, but Sophia’s feelings were amplified by my own when she used her ability on me. Without this, Sophia wouldn’t have killed them.
Sophia didn’t kill her father and Regis of her own volition. She was pushed forward by my own hatred of Regis and Carlos.
“…Leon, what are you thinking about?”
Alice’s words were barely audible.
I was only able to speak a single word before Alice placed her finger over my lips.
“Do you really think you can show me such a painful face and try to tell me nothing’s wrong?”
She saw straight through me.
“I was just thinking that if I knew how Sophia’s ability worked back then, I could’ve stopped her from reading my feelings and this never would’ve happened.”
“…well, if you think about it like that, then I guess it is your fault.”
Alice giggled as she said the exact opposite of what I wanted to hear.
“You’re right. It’s all my fault.”
“Yep. The fact that Sophia killed her father, was able to overcome that trauma, and was freed from her marriage to Patrick was entirely your fault.”
I was unsure of how to react after hearing her words.
“Sophia got over her trauma because you and everyone else were there for her. Even with Patrick, that was a result of you and Claire working together.”
“Then, I could be just as much to blame for not noticing the full extent of Sophia’s abilities. I was also there that day.”
I wanted to tell her she was wrong, but Alice was in the same position as me that day. If I want to blame myself, then I’d also have to blame her.
…I understand what she’s trying to say. If I try to blame myself, then she’ll blame herself as well.
“Alice, you’re kind, but also not at the same time.”
“That’s awfully rude. I’m a kind person, I’m just not that sweet.”
“…well, thank you for trying to make me feel better.”
Although she went about it in a roundabout way, she did manage to make me feel a little better. After that, we watched Sophia as she finished her prayer.
Shortly after, Sophia stood up and ran over to me before jumping into my arms.
“…did you finish your prayer?”
“Yeah. I can’t forgive him for what he did. However…he is the person that raised me. So I wanted to make sure he knew I was thankful to him for that.”
I was relieved to see that Sophia seemed to be truly over her past.
With that thought in my mind, I gently patted Sophia’s fluffy gold hair. The slight smell of citrus was coming from her hair and lightly tickled my nose.
Sophia will be thirteen years old this year. It really is getting embarrassing for her to be embracing me like this.
Because people in this world mature at such a young age, and Sophia’s chest, in particular, is developing exceptionally well….
“I’m not reading your feelings.”
“…is that so?”
It seems that no matter how much I try to act like a nice guy on the surface, it’s all pointless when Sophia can read my inner feelings.
Even though she read my feelings, she never pulled away from me.
“I like it when Leon onii-chan thinks about things like that.”
“Ah~ fine, I get it. I don’t know why I ever expect any of you to show any self-restraint.”
I was at my limit of embarrassment and had to peel Sophia off of me. At the same time, I glanced over at Alice to see her laughing at my embarrassment.
“…what is it?”
“Nothing. It’s just…I’m glad that we didn’t need to be so worried about Sophia.”
“…that may be true.”
Sophia has certainly become stronger. If the Sophia I first met was in this same situation, I doubt she’d ever be able to forgive her father or she’d never stop blaming herself.
So I’m relieved that she was able to get past this first hurdle.
However, until she meets with Elyse, I can’t say that I’m no longer worried about her.
Everything depends on how Elyse will react to meeting with Sophia.