Chapter 1. An Accidental Encounter
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She had no idea who was in his mind, but the duke’s voice became unusually cold.
Was there anyone who paid attention to her? There were only a few people who stayed at the duke’s residence and met her every day.
Is it, perhaps, Ton……..?
He had been kind to her lately, but she never thought he was interested in her……..
“If Nelia doesn’t know, leave it.”
The duke stopped Nelia, who seemed confused, from questioning any further.
‘Who is it……. I’m curious.’
However, the duke seemed to be unwilling to tell her, and he just walked up to the carriage and opened the door.
“Nelia, please get in.”
Walking up to the carriage, Nelia looked at the exterior of the luxurious carriage before getting in.
There was a painting of gray dragon on the carriage door. It was said that this carriage made by the Imperial Family could only be ridden by the imperial family themselves and a few high-ranking senior officials.
The interior of the carriage was as good as the luxurious exterior.
The space was spacious and comfortable, and the velvet seat was surprisingly soft enough.
On the other hand, the duke sat across Nelia with a plain face.
Soon the carriage set off.
The Imperial Palace and Duke Hart weren’t far away from here, so they would arrive quickly. Nelia grew nervous as time went by.
It was her first time going to the palace since the day of the party when the Crown Prince was introduced officially.
“Your Grace……. But what are you going to say when people ask about the matter I have there?”
It’s been a while since she worked as the handmaiden of the duke, but not many people knew about it yet. The workers in the family were indeed taciturn, and the only people who saw her were a few guests who came over to see the duke.
Therefore, she thought she would attract quite a lot of attention if she went to the palace together with the duke.
“I’ll say you’re my handmaiden.”
It’s true that she’s a handmaiden, so it’s right to introduce her as one, but…….
Actually, the duke was at the center of the conversation.
Because of that, there was a rumor going around stating he was taking energizers* for being a h*mos*xual.
Although he, the person involved in the rumor, didn’t seem to pay much attention to that, it wasn’t the same for Nelia. Attracting attention from many people made her uncomfortable and she had a hard time because of tht. Especially when standing beside someone as dazzling as him.
“Wouldn’t Your Grace think it would look strange if I, a real maid, followed you to the Imperial Palace?”
“Yes, that’s okay.”
The duke smiled softly as telling her not to worry.
“There might be some who would be interested because you’re simply my maid, but such an interest won’t last long.”
Nelia decided to believe the duke for now. Even if she didn’t believe it, she had to go to the Imperial Palace anyway, so it would be better to think about the positive side.
But Nelia knew it as soon as she set foot in the Imperial Palace, since she could feel the curious gaze of many people.
Some people sometimes asked the duke how he was doing and some asked about Nelia.
Each time the duke smiled politely and replied that she was the handmaiden of his.
Fortunately, people quickly gathered their curiosity at his answer stating she was his handmaiden. As the duke said, it’s hardly surprising that a high-ranking official, who wasn’t even brought a handmaiden even if he wasn’t equal with the members of the Imperial Family.
The duke announced his arrival at the office. The place they arrived at was located in the corner on the third floor of the main building.
Nelia looked around. No matter how mulch she looked at the building, she felt like there was only the duke’s office in this building.
“Isn’t Your Grace’s office a little secluded?”
“It’s because I took over my father’s office. It might be because of the curse, but I do think this secluded place is comfortable.”
Nelia looked at the duke’s expression when talking about deceased late father, but he seemed unbothered.
Entering the office, the well-organized space filled her sight.
“Nelia’s seat hasn’t been arranged yet, I think you can take a seat here for now.”
The duke pointed to the sofa in front of the desk. It seemed to be provided for the guests.
“Yes, I understand.”
Nelia sat awkwardly on the sofa while taking a look around, and someone knocked on the door. The person who entered upon granted permission was the duke’s aide.
“Your Grace, His Majesty has summoned you.”
For a moment, Nelia was nervous.
Apparently, the duke had to go to see the emperor, but she wondered what they should do in this situation? The duke might fall and turn into a snake.
However, the duke offered a simple answer that overshadowed her concern.
“Nelia, will you come with me?”
Nelia moved to the top floor of the main palace along with the duke.
For your information, my aide is also part of my family, so you don’t have to walk on eggshells around him.”
No wonder, the aide never gave Nelia a curious glance.
As if he already knew.
Now that she realized it, the duke has thoroughly filled the position of his personal aide with his family members.
That must be why this secret wasn’t revealed for so long.
“Please wait here for a moment. I won’t take long.”
“Yes, feel free to go.”
The duke smiled swiftly and entered the emperor’s office.
Nelia thought it wasn’t going to be easy to stay away from him so that he wouldn’t turn into a snake.
There would be a lot of unexpected travel like now.
In the meantime, she needed to go run several tests with him to see how far they could be apart from each other and how long it would exactly last if he turned.
Nelia was waiting for the duke and she had nothing to do, so she decided to walk around the hall. The guards were staring weirdly at her, but she was left with no choice.
Nelia walked around the hallway and thought.
The relationship between the emperor and Duke Hart was getting more strange the more she thought about it.
The one was thinking of inserting a knife in the other’s back, meanwhile the other had no idea and was putting complete trust toward the other.
Even now, she could tell from the fact that he called Duke Hart as soon as return to work at the Imperial Palace. From how it looks, it seemed that the duke was given a lot of privileges in other parts as well.
The emperor surely was hooked on Duke Hart.
In some way, it was natural how Carlos disapproved of Duke Hart being here.
Because he believed and trusted Duke Hart, who wasn’t even related by blood, more than his son.
Then there was a cold voice coming from behind.
“Who dares to walk around in front of His Majesty’s office?”
Nelia turned around in surprise.
Nelia’s surprised eyes grew bigger.
There was Crown Prince Carlos standing behind her.
‘He can’t be a noble.’
She thought he looked scary appearing like that.
Carlos, who confirmed that it was Nelia who stood there, immediately cleared up his cold expression and opened his mouth in surprise.
Nelia was as bewildered as him, but she managed to bow her head with courtesy and spit out in a calm voice.
“May you always be healthy and peaceful, Your Highness.”
“Why are you there?”
She felt it on Carlos every time, but he wasn’t being polite enough.
If someone offered a greeting, the first thing he should have done was accept it, but he asked questions instead.
However, no matter how many times she mentally criticized him, she couldn’t blurt it out. He’s a Crown Prince who get her killed in the original story because he has a nasty temper.
“From today, I will come to the Imperial Palace to assist His Grace the Duke. I’m currently waiting for His Grace.”
Carlos tilted his face obliquely and looked down at Nelia. He frowned as if he was displeased with her answer.
“There are times when the nobles who work at the Imperial Palace bring their employees along, but this is the first time to see that they even brought them to the Emperor’s office.”
She didn’t want to follow him around either, but would he believe it if she told him that Duke Hart might turn into a snake and to prevent that, have to stick with her?
Nelia just kept her mouth shut.
“Is the duke currently having an audience with His Majesty?”
“Yes, it’s been about 10 minutes since he came in.”
Carlos stared at Nelia while humming. Nelia was terribly overwhelmed by Carlos’ eyes.
“It will take at least 20 more minutes for the duke to come out.”
“His Grace said he won’t be long…….”
“Let’s go to my personal office and serve you a cup of tea.”
Nelia tried to ask back, but Carlos interrupted her.
More than that, what did he just say? He was going to serve tea to her?”
‘So……. let’s have tea together……..?’
Nelia blinked belatedly after she was able to comprehend Carlos’ words.
“I said I will serve you a cup of tea.”
Nelia managed to hold herself back from asking the reason.
Because since last time, it was a bad time if he showed interest in her.
She thought the reason why he showed even more interest in her was because of Duke Hart.
“Thank you for your offer, but it is my duty to wait for him……. And I don’t think I will be able to leave.”
When the duke came out of the room, she was certain he would definitely look for her. Above all, she shouldn’t have been more than a certain distance away from the duke.
However, he probably wasn’t satisfied with her answer because Carlos narrowed his eyebrows once again.
“My office is right beside His Majesty’s office. If you inform the guards, the duke would be there in no time.”
The duke shouldn’t turn into a snake if his office was right beside this room, but she was reluctant to accept his offer.
“So you don’t want to?”
Carlos’ expression gradually became more and more grim.
Actually, it was hard to say no to him. Nelia finally nodded.
Carlos’ narrowed eyebrows finally loosened. And he turned to the security guard.
“If the duke comes out, tell him his handmaiden is in my office.”
“Yes! I understand!”
When the soldier answered in a disciplined tone, Carlos looked at Nelia as if signaling her to follow him.
Nelia followed Carlos.
When the door opened, the large space immediately came into her sight. Compared to the duke’s office, it was slightly wider.
Most likely because he was the Crown Prince.
Nelia looked around with a stunned look on her face.
Perhaps because she had seen so many rare and luxurious items in the duke’s residence, the Crown Prince’s office didn’t look particularly special except it was a little wider. But she was amazed at herself for getting the chance to see the Crown Prince’s office.
“Take a seat here.”
Nelia regained her senses and sat down where Carlos had gestured for her. It was positioned on the sunny window.
The view was great because it was on the top floor. It was looking down from the high place in the center.
Nelia thought tiny people who were moving busily through the green landscapes looked like ants.
“Did the duke come again to the palace starting today?”
Nellia averted her eyes when hearing Carlos’ voice.
“Yes, since his foot has already healed.”
“He took a while, huh.”
A maid came in to bring the tea along with the sarcastic remark.
The maid was supposed to do it, but Carlos poured the tea into the cup by himself.
Therefore, it was more uncomfortable.
Nelia cautiously took the cup handed over to her and took a sip. She could feel Carlos’ gaze following her movement.
Given the fact that she was called here alone, perhaps there might be something he wanted to say?
“Are you going to follow Duke Hart to the palace from now on?”
“Yes, in the meantime.”
“For what reason?”
His question was straight to the point. As if observing the duke’s movement.
“His Grace has been very ill recently, so there must be someone to take care of him.”
Nellia sugar-coated it.
She didn’t know if Carlos believed this or not, but at least he didn’t ask and nitpick right away.
However, she felt like his gaze grew a little darker.
“Are you satisfied working as the handmaiden of the duke?”
Luckily, the question changed.
“…….Yes, I’m satisfied.”
Nelia pondered and gave a second thought to Carlos’ question after giving a nice answer.
To be honest, it was hard to say that she was satisfied.
Apart from being attached and very affectionate to her, too many dynamic things happened when staying at his side.
She had to be on pins and needles while watching over when he turned into a snake, talking to the Crown Prince whom she never met personally before in our lives.
If she hadn’t been involved with the duke, if she hadn’t been a handmaiden. She would not have to go through all of these.
“Too bad. Had you changed your mind even a little, I would be willing to have you as my handmaiden.”
Nelia possibly knew why Carlos was saying that.
Considering their relationship, he probably wanted to irritate the duke rather than actually taking an interest in her.
It was difficult to say the duke was nice considering his deed in the original story, but Carlos was not very nice either.
Carlos, who didn’t know what Nelia was thinking, continued while holding the teapot.
“I’ll give you another drink, bring the teacup…….”
It was at that moment.
The teapot in Carlos’ grasp fell on the table and produced a loud noise.
The tea in the teapot fell and spilled, the table was instantly flooded.
‘Oh, it will need to be wiped cleanly.’
Nelia looked at the spilled tea, and looked up at Carlos.
Seeing Carlos’ rigid face, Nelia realized something unusual.
He didn’t budge and simply watched the mess on the table. She assumed he was slightly startled and a little lost.
He was just looking down at his right arm.
‘Perhaps…….. Was his arm paralyzed just now?’
Carlos had a congenital handicap in his right arm and couldn’t move properly.
If it went according to the original story, Carlos’ arm would stiffen again despite his effort to overcome almost everything for his arm.
With that probably in mind, Nelia asked Carlos.
“Your Highness…….? Are you alright?”
Carlos still didn’t answer. His arm remained in the air, and didn’t budge in the slightest.
[t/n: just additional information (and fun fact, maybe?), the duke still uses formal language whenever he talks to Nelia, and he actually talks from the 3rd POV, which not a lot of MLs do (I think?). It’s so sweet from my perspective. And that shows how humble and polite he is, even though his status is basically higher than Nelia and the workers. Anyway, that makes him unique and different lol]