Chapter 1. An Accidental Encounter
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Would he be angry if she touched his arm?
In the middle of thinking so, time went by in silence.
In the end, Nelia carefully touched Carlos’ fingertips.
Seeing that he didn’t withdraw even though he flinched, it seemed as if his right arm wasn’t listening to him.
Nelia remembered that Carlos was terribly ashamed of this when she was about to call for someone.
The prideful Carlos most likely didn’t want to show this to anyone else.
Nelia couldn’t bear to watch Carlos in such a state, so she decided to perform the simple thing within her ability.
“Your Highness, if your arm feels uncomfortable, I will massage it for you.”
Carlos looked up at Nelia. His eyes looked blank as if his soul had left his body.
Nelia assumed Carlos’ silence as an affirmation.
She reached out and rubbed Carlos’ fingertips little by little. When she put a little bit of strength in it, his fingers flinched.
Getting the slight response, Nelia supported his paralyzed arm and massaged the whole arm.
She wondered if the sloppy massage worked. Then, his arm began to move little by little.
At last, Carlos gathered his stiff arm.
When Nelia saw it, she returned to her seat.
‘Huft, it was hard.’
She came here to get a cup of tea, but she didn’t know what was going on at this point.
Carlos was moving his right arm, as if to test it. His expression was still hard.
“Are you alright now?”
As expected, she didn’t get any answer again.
He just looked down and snapped his finger like doing a test.
Did this happen often? Judging from his reaction, he acted as if he didn’t expect it at all.
Then, someone knocked on the door.
“Your Highness, His Grace the Duke is here.”
When the guard announced Duke Hart’s arrival from outside the door, Nelia quickly sprang up from her seat.
Carlos’ gaze slowly followed her.
“Your Highness, I enjoyed the tea all thanks to you. I will take my leave now.”
He just stared at Nelia with a blank gaze. He didn’t say anything.
‘He will be okay, right……..?’
Nelia bowed her head at him, who hasn’t given any answer even until now, and walked toward the door.
When the door opened, she found Duke Hart, who seemed distraught unlike usual.
“What are you doing inside………”
The duke stopped talking. His eyes dropped to her chest.
And then, after she followed his dropping gaze, she realized her clothes had been slightly wet due to the spilled tea water from the falling teapot.
The duke’s eyes shifted to the inside.
He seemed to look at Carlos sitting on the spilled table at that moment.
“…….I was drinking tea with His HIghness, and I accidentally spilled my teacup. I was on my way to call the maid.”
The staged event of what happened earlier was an act of consideration to Carlos, who thought his right arm was a disgrace.
Nelia hurriedly continued, fearing that the duke might notice something else.
“Your Highness Carlos is busy, so I don’t think I need to say hello.” “His Highness Carlos is likely to be busy, so I don’t think it’s wise to greet him.”
Duke Hart was still staring at Carlos inside.
He probably noticed this sloppy lie, but the duke wouldn’t nitpick at her considering his nature.
As expected, the duke quickly took his eyes away from the Crown Prince.
Nelia returned to the office with the duke. Silence engulfed the two as they walked together.
It was because the duke didn’t speak like usual, and his expression was stiff and seemed angry.
The moment she thought it was strange of him, the duke finally spoke.
“I was surprised to hear that you were in the Crown Prince’s office just now.”
As expected, it was because of that.
Nelia knew that he was angry with her, who disappeared without a word, but she wanted to explain something beforehand.
“I apologize for disappearing from my place all of a sudden. But I couldn’t help it since the Crown Prince said he really wanted to treat me with tea……. And I wasn’t in a position to refuse either.”
Just so he knew, she was also very uncomfortable with Carlos’ suggestion………!
Nelia looked up at the duke with eyes that looked as if she was being wronged.
“I’m telling the truth……..”
Nelia’s light brown eyes, which shone with sorrow as she spoke, were wet.
The duke blinked his eyes at the sight. Then he hugged Nelia.
“I know. Please don’t be angry, Nelia.”
Nelia felt like melting at his usual sweet voice.
“……I’ve never been angry.”
“That’s how it looks to me.”
The duke landed a gentle kiss on Nelia’s head. Nelia pulled away in surprise.
“Y, You can’t do that here…….!”
“Who cares, there’s no one here.”
She knew that her question would turn bad with the duke’s sly attitude. She should have pointed out his behavior, not the place where he did that.
Seriously, Duke Hart never missed out a single word.
“Your Grace frequently initiates too many…… skinship. Especially in the palace, you have to be more careful because there are a lot of eyes watching.”
The duke didn’t seem to pay much attention to Nelia’s scolding.
She didn’t think he would listen to her at all.
Nelia was mentally babbling complaints when the duke grasped her chin gently.
Nelia replied with a sour look.
“What did you talk about with the Crown Prince?”
His questioning voice became serious.
Considering their relationship was similar to dogs and cats, he has every right to take the similar situation sensitively as before. The duke was engaged in an intense war of nerves with the Crown Prince and the Emperor in between.
Nelia told the truth about what happened.
“His Highness asked me why I was in the palace, so I told him that I would come with the duke to work from now on. And………”
Before speaking any further, she glanced up at the duke.
“He asked if I was satisfied working as the handmaiden of His Grace. But when I said yes, he said it was such a shame………”
Tuk. She thought she heard a terrifying sound coming from the back of the chair the duke was holding.
Nelia halted and checked the duke. The duke had blanked out his expression.
When someone who always had a limited expression showed a blank expression, it felt quite cold.
His voice was also in a much lower octave than usual.
“…….We didn’t talk about anything else. After all, we’ve been talking for less than ten minutes.”
Nelia left out Carlos’ paralyzed arm. After all, she didn’t have to say that.
“Thank you for telling me.”
His appreciation was slightly different from usual.
Nelia was unfamiliar with such a duke. His expression wasn’t as expressionless as before, but she felt as if there was cold air still lingering somewhere.
“Does Your Grace dislike His Highness Carlos?”
Nelia knew what kind of relationship they have, but she asked it on purpose, pretending to have no idea about it. Hoping that the duke might talk more about the truth.
Actually, the duke and her body……… might have become very close, but their usual conversation wasn’t that deep. Although the duke sometimes would tell stories regarding his family and curses, Nelia still wondered what he was thinking about living.
In particular, such as how much anger still remained against the emperor and whether revenge was still the goal of his life.
His anger against the emperor must have been projected on Carlos, so she might be able to hear stories related to it if she asked.
“Yes, I don’t like him.”
Nelia was a little surprised by the frank answer that came out more easily than she thought.
“Because he’s flirting with Nelia.”
………But the reason was so different from what she thought.
She predicted the reason why he despised Carlos would be because of the emperor.
No, above all that, didn’t he just say a very dangerous remark?
Nelia asked while attempting to pull herself together.
“Your Grace……. When did His Highness ever flirt with me?”
If anyone heard it, that sort of remark might be taken as a disdain toward the Imperial Family.
“The last time he paid a visit to the mansion and now.”
“Is it because we drank tea together……..?”
At Nelia’s question, the duke let out a sigh.
“My innocent Nelia. This is why I’m worried you’re going to be seized away.”
“What is Your Grace………”
“Nelia, the Imperial Family never offered tea to anyone. More particularly people like Crown Prince Carlos.”
She knew it…… but isn’t it too fast to assume he’s flirting?
Carlos didn’t treat her kindly or sweetly at all. He didn’t do anything good except serve tea to her.
Rather, Nelia thought the duke failed to accurately comprehend Carlos’ intention because he was blinded by love.
Carlos wasn’t interested in her out of personal interest, but because she was the close person of the duke.
But Nelia refused to explain.
After all, the duke seemed to have believed strongly in his own assumption.
“Nelia is not aware how much value you have on yourself. Who doesn’t harbor an evil heart when you’re this lovely?”
No one will, Your Grace…….!
Nelia thought it was a good thing that the aide used a separate room. It would be horrible if anyone heard it.
Nelia rubbed her hand on her face.
Talking about things related to the emperor? She’s a fool to expect it.
Contrary to her worries that something might happen due to the changing environment, each day went smoothly.
In the meantime, the duke and Nelia also ran various tests every night.
For example, they conducted experiments such as whether the duke turned into a snake when they were really apart from each other, how far apart they could be from each other to make the duke turn into a snake, how long they could be apart, and whether the medicine didn’t really work anymore.
In conclusion, the duke turned into a snake when he was apart with Nelia.
However, regarding the distance, it was fine for a certain distance. About a 10 minutes walk? If they were apart further than that, the duke would turn into a snake.
That didn’t mean the duke immediately turned into a snake. His appearance was fine for about 30 minutes or so after they separated. Moreover, the medicine didn’t work perfectly, although it finally showed its effectiveness after he took around three pills so far.
However, consuming it that much would put a lot of pressure on the duke’s body, so they’d rather avoid it unless the situation was very urgent.
Knowing the condition of the duke’s transformation to a snake to some extent, she felt relieved and uncomfortable at the same time.
This was due to the question, ‘why did he not turn into a snake when he was with her?’ that grew even more deeper.
Nelia even made a slightly negative speculation about this.
Although Duke Hart didn’t return to his snake form when he was with her, the exquisite medicine wasn’t effective instead.
He probably snatched one instead of giving one.
“What are you thinking so seriously like that?”
Nelia gave the reply with an awkward smile.
They were currently on their way back to the duke’s mansion after finishing work at the Imperial Palace as usual.
Getting off the carriage, Nelia decided to enjoy the garden while thinking about the evening breeze that felt particularly refreshing today.
She felt better when she walked through the concinnously arranged green garden. Perhaps, it’s because even the gardener only uses the best stuff.
But if there was one thing that caught her eyes in this beautiful view, it was the large warehouse beside the main building.
The unfriendly appearance didn’t suit the exquisite landscape every time she looked at it.
Looking at Ton, the butler and servants entering and leaving the warehouse made her curiosity rise even more recently.
It was a place others didn’t frequent, but recently they were busy managing it as if preparing something.
Yesterday, she spotted a suspicious person wearing a robe.
Nelia thought that she should ask the duke about it.
“Your Grace, what is inside the warehouse?”
The duke’s gaze turned to the warehouse. He looked at the warehouse for a moment and spoke slowly.
It will be occupied soon though. The duke mumbled meaningfully.
‘It will be occupied soon…….?’
The duke continued while smiling to Nelia, who was still curious.
“It’s better for Nelia to not know. Something horrifying will be put in there.”
His explanation was vague like a quiz. Nelia sensed the way he spoke just now was too different from his usual speaking tone.
He was someone who could adeptly change the topic of the conversation if it was something he didn’t want to talk about. And too straightforward when it wasn’t.
Therefore when he spoke so vaguely like this, it seemed that he might want to tell her something that she wasn’t supposed to know.