Hide and Seek (Part 5)
One more time.
As Sera grabbed the broom on the ground, she repeatedly said 'one more time' seven times.
She changed the angle of the broom slightly each time she repeated the move while talking to herself, then startled herself when she felt someone behind her and turned around.
"...Sera? What are you doing here?"
It was Iris, who walked into the room which was to be cleaned.
She had no ability to hide her presence.
Therefore, Sera sighed in relief as she watched Iris walk slowly towards her.
The mansion was still on high alert after the recent assassin incident.
"Haah, Lady Iris."
“Puhup! What is that? That weird pose?"
Sera's face went red as she was standing in a strange way due to stopping midway in her training, and pulled the two brooms into her chest.
"Ahahaha...I was training. I have shown you something embarrassing."
She grabbed both brooms with one hand and lifted the end of her skirt with the other as she bent her knees slightly.
It was clumsy, but it was a curtsy that still retained its proper form.
"It's alright. It is nice to see someone make such effort to improve themselves, no matter how it looks. In fact I should be embarrassed myself. It seems like I've interrupted your training."
"Please refrain from saying improving myself. It hurts."
"Truth is, I was slacking off."
Sera smiled shyly as she replied.
She may not be able to answer to Stein this way, but it was okay for Iris.
If Ian was responsible for Riley, Sera was responsible for Iris.
The servant who spends most time with her was Sera.
Talking like friends is just another daily occurrence for them.
"Well...Master Riley disappeared."
Riley, who had disappeared yesterday, disappeared again?
Iris's face went pale with the worry that there may be assassins still left in the mansion.
"Oh, it's not what you're worried about. Truth is...Master Stein called Master Riley in. It's the tournament season. I believe it's because of that."
Iris nodded as she made an expression of understanding.
"Is it hide and seek?"
"Yes. And I'm supposed to find him but...my focus turned to training halfway."
Sera awkwardly laughed.
When the third son of the mansion hides, no one can find the boy.
That was the truth.
"Well...Is there nothing you want from him?"
"Want from him?"
"Yes. It seems like Master Stein wants to make Master Riley do something. But Master Riley would just run away... Yet you seem different from him. Aren't you bothered? Like that talk about...the successor."
This was a question which was asked often by Ian as well.
Even the now-banished Lady Orelly was quite strict with her children.
But Iris was the complete opposite.
No matter how lazy her son was, she would just smile warmly back at him.
"Um, I don't think that's the case."
"I've scolded Riley just yesterday as well. Weren't you watching too?"
‘I know the popcorn you've made yourself tastes nice, but how can you worry everyone around you so much?’
It was Iris who forced Riley to apologise to Ian, Sera and herself.
"Well, I think I can safely say it was too soft."
Sera's words could not be finished.
It seemed Iris still had something to say, and continued.
"I...have been taught that...a mother must understand what her son's thoughts are. Of course I'm no psychic, and I can't read what he's thinking but...I can understand just what emotion he's going through. As his mother."
She smiled bitterly when she expressed what she thought a mother should be, and then continued to explain how she saw Riley, as a mother.
"Sometimes...I can see his eyes shake, or see an endless sadness on his face. I've wondered many times why he would make such face but I could never find out. So I've asked him privately. ‘Is there anything making you sad or causing you pain?’ Do you know what Riley said?"
It was something Sera, who was always next to Iris, never noticed.
Sleeping or reading.
Or just consuming food.
The Young Master who would hum as he leaned on the apple tree would show such a face in front of his mother?
It was unexpected.
Sera asked in a surprised tone.
"What did he say?"
"He acted like he knew nothing about it. That it was nothing, that nothing like that happened."
"Yes. Even while he made a worried face as if he was being scolded. It seemed like he was trying to hide it."
Iris began to play with her fingers.
"It hurts me that he won't tell his mother about it but...I guess it means he's thought about it as well. I'm sure it's to not make me worry."
Her bitter smile began to change into a gentle, calm smile.
Although still a little young to call herself a veteran mother, it was a smile that made her look so gentle...you could feel the warmth radiating from it.
"There must be something. In a place I don't know, when I couldn't see him, something happened to Riley. Something that would make his eyes tremble, and make a sad face as if he's shouldering the weight of the world...something like that."
‘If I was next to my son for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year… Would I have found out?’
The answer did not come.
Therefore Iris decided to be strong.
"As his only mother, I have to understand."
Even if the people of the mansion showed hostility.
Even if they pounded their chest in frustration.
"So...at least I won't force him to do something."
‘At least I won't be like them. Let's believe in my son.’
That is what Iris decided.
And she believed that her son would also believe in her one day.
"I will wait for him."
‘Because I'm his mother.’
"I just...wish for Riley's happiness. More than anyone in the world."
Iris was a good mother.
Sera convinced herself.
‘When I get old, get married, and have a child, I will become a mother like her.’
That is what Sera decided.
"...Is something on my face?"
With Sera staring with such a satisfied smirk on her face, Iris questioned her.
"No, I was just... admiring."
"Oh Sera... You're making me blush."
Sera who was considering whether she would need to tell Iris about Riley's advice, tightly held the broom in her hand.
There is no need to tell Iris.
That's what she decided.
'Shh, act like this never happened.'
It was Riley's personal request as well.
So she decided to keep her silence.
"Then Sera, work hard."
Iris turned away after encouraging the silent Sera.
"Um, Lady Iris."
"Are you, perhaps, going off somewhere?"
As the maid serving Iris, it was part of her duty to know about her whereabouts.
Sera was going to follow her after her cleaning duty was finished.
Iris stopped at Sera's question.
As if trying to hide something, she had a playful face on her.
"Perhaps...to the bathroom?"
"Huhu, it's a secret."
Iris then continued to walk away.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to hide like Riley."
Riley sighed inside his hiding spot.
Thankfully, after finding out the situation with his mana, there didn't seem to be a need to silence Sera himself.
'Well, mother does have a good eye for judging people.'
Iris is not just kind.
What Riley thought was her real strength was her ability to judge others.
Sera was a good example, although he was still worried.
'Now that I think about it, she also made Ian look after me.'
The thought of the butler whose face would sometimes go red with rage, then cry like a little girl made Riley laugh a little.
He was thankful for having someone so entertaining with him.
'...I've gotta respect my parents.'
It was an obvious decision for the mother who would love and trust her son.
Although he could not do so in his previous life, he would perform it with utmost faith in this life.
As he reconfirmed his thoughts, Riley remembered Count Stein's eyes.
Likely, Stein must have seen what Ian had peeked into as well.
That must be the reason.
The reason why he sees Riley with eyes full of expectation.
To Riley he was his father...therefore, his parent.
If he were to respect parents, Stein is also someone to whom he must show his respect.
Awkward with his words.
He could only speak harsh, cold words but he holds deep thoughts within him.
That was Riley's father, Stein.
Today was also the same.
It was, perhaps, in order to keep Riley away from Lloyd who was furious with Orelly's incident that he was given the invite to the swordsmanship tournament.
'I don't think I'll be able to avoid fighting if I went.'
Let's say he accepted his father's wishes and went to the tournament.
He doubted that he would be able to hide his old habits from the past for the entire duration of the tournament.
Riley shook his head as he remembered his past.
The mana being absorbed by Riley began to tremble.
Afterwards, someone began to knock.
He extinguished the glowing mana around him.
Riley who was crouching looked up.
The door began to open with a creak.
Riley spoke blankly at the sight of his mother coming over to his hiding spot.
"Were you hiding here again?"
"I'm sorry. I just...had something to think about."
Where Riley was hiding in was Iris's closet.
It was one of the few places Riley could hide in the mansion.
It was here that Riley polished his mana, eavesdropped on Sera, and contemplated on his father's talk of the capital.
"Don't you know this is bad? As I've told you yesterday, everyone will worry if you do this."
Iris bent her knees to look at Riley on equal grounds.
"Something to think about... Is it the capital?"
Even though Riley was simply throwing a tantrum, Iris's face was still filled with warmth.
It seems she had some inclination to believe that her son wanted to perform his duty as a son.
Riley simply nodded his head without an answer.
"I'm just scared of the sword."
Unlike the other times, Riley answered as if relying on his mother.
An answer hiding his trauma of the past or the expectation that followed.
He’s scared of the sword.
It was a rather honest answer.
"Hm, I see."
With a small pause, Iris tilted her head then continued to speak.
"Then how about a vacation?"
Riley's eyes went wide with surprise.
She was smiling brightly.
"A vacation. With your mother."
With a warm smile, Iris added.
"Your mother will help."