Huge thanks to Sahsahsah for the kofi!
“I asked them to make the dishes light since I thought you might have an upset stomach.”
“No, everything is delicious. I guess I was just really nervous. Thank you for your concern.”
What here didn’t suit my taste?
The scent of cherry jam applied smoothly on thin bread, hot onion soup, and fish meat covered with a sauce I’d never heard of were all definitely very tempting.
I was always madly hungry.
It’s not that I never wanted to eat, but that I ate at places where I had no choice but to throw up. In that sense, a ball-like occasion was more comfortable. No one cared about who ate what in those events.
The only person who could control me was myself, after all.
Ellenia, who stared at me for a while, gave a tight smile, and soon told me to finish up.
After a while, the empty plates were taken away. A fragrant tea and simple dessert came out.
“As you know, here in Elendale, it’s busy every summer, so I ask for your understanding that my brother might be a little late. My father will not return to the capital until the end of the month due to issues with the fief. I’m sorry for the lack of hospitality.”
“Oh, no, I’m fine, I do not mind it.”
“I have been living in this mansion since my mother’s death. I hold the duty of managing household affairs, but I shall keep the Lady’s preference in mind. If there is anything that displeases you or if you are uncomfortable, feel free to give the head maid any orders.”
Ah, ‘the Lady’. A strange and awkward title.
I pretended to fiddle with the teacup, my eyes gazing downwards. “Thank you for your consideration, but I’d rather things stay the same for now. I’m not familiar with the customs here yet and I’m afraid I’ll cause trouble if I go too far.”
With that impassive look on her face, Ellenia, who had put the teacup down, looked straight into my eyes again. “There is nothing to worry about. No one would dare think of you like that.”
Formal words. Businesslike reactions.
Nevertheless, there were signs of her being surprised and anxious. I smiled innocently as if I didn’t know anything and changed the subject. “More importantly, I’d like to ask you something else.”
“Feel free to ask me anything.”
“Could you please call me Ruby for the time being?”
Ellenia did not reply immediately.
I looked carefully at her perfect poker face and pretended to swallow in nervousness. “As you know, I’m a stranger here, and even though I knew what was coming, I’m honestly clueless on how to adjust. If I had someone like you as a friend, I’d have a lot of courage…”
“Uwah, thank you!”
As I leaned forward and held her hands with a wide smile, I felt her trembling. I quickly let go and moved away, stuttering with embarrassment, “I’m sorry, I’m being rude.”
“T-Then can I call you Ellen?”
“It would be nice to be comfortable with each other.”
I couldn’t imagine this cold beauty being comfortable with anyone. She calmly lowered her eyes. Then, she added, as if she was sighing, “It’s not good to act too kind. Too much humility can cause misunderstanding.”
She didn’t mean it out of concern for me.
It was an implicit suggestion that if we both were hiding our true colors, we should overlook it and get to know each other as far as we were comfortable with.
I also didn’t expect her to let go of her guard against me so soon, but I think I succeeded in making an unexpected impression. I didn’t want people here to like me anyway, including Ellenia.
My purpose was to come off as harmless as possible. A fool who is not like the others in the house of Borgia. A mild-mannered idiot, unlike the rumors circulating about me around the world.
“I’m used to being misunderstood. I’ll try hard so that I don’t become a burden.”
Ellenia gazed at me silently.
I suddenly remembered my sister. What she looked like at the end. Dried blood stuck to her frail wrist.
“I will guide you to the room where you’ll be staying.”
With the curtains drawn, I could see the shimmering sea clearly through the window.
The sunset, which painted the horizon red, extended all the way to my feet and warmed the white room.
Ellenia approached me from behind and looked at where I was gazing. “I tried my best to decorate the room, but I don’t know if you like it.”
“I like it very much.”
“I’ll show you around the mansion tomorrow. If you would like another room…”
“No, I really like it the way it is. I like the view. I’ve always wanted a room with a view of the sea.”
Ellenia didn’t flinch when I held her hand this time.
Instead, she lowered her eyes as if she was caught off-guard, and stared at the hand I was touching. She spoke in a slightly subdued tone, “You must be tired today, so it’s best to rest early. My brother might be late because of his schedule…”
“It’s fine, Ellen,” I reassured her. I just wanted to sleep, anyway. I knew that it would be like this from the first day, so there was nothing to be hurt about.
No, rather, I felt relieved.
Either way, my goal was not to win his love. Probably not even his compassion.
I could see a tall maid staring silently at me over Ellenia’s shoulder. To describe her expression… It was a mixture of ridicule and contempt, but it didn’t matter.
Being considered insignificant was familiar to me anyway.
I woke up to notice my teeth chattering on their own.
I heard it was a little cold in Britannia at dawn even if it was summer, but I didn’t think this counted as just a little cold.
Holding on to the blanket tightly and trembling, I soon found out that the fire in the fireplace had died out.
In northern countries like Britannia, hearths held green flames and were lit everywhere at night in aristocratic houses, because of the monsters dwelling in the region. These flames were not just for warmth, though.
They were a vital part of living in the North and could only be lit by an official priest or someone higher in rank. When the sun sets, the fire’s light would permeate every nook and cranny and ward off the monsters looking for humans at night.
I knew very well that these green flames couldn’t die out on their own unless someone did it on purpose.
Who would do such a childish thing? The maid from before?
I tried to go back to sleep, but it was so cold that I couldn’t bear it. I shivered and sneezed, and got up out of bed, creeping up to the fireplace, wondering if there were any embers left.
This kind of bullying really was childish.
At first, I thought it was the sound of the wind rattling the windows.
But it wasn’t the cold, empty night view that greeted me through the window. Half frozen in front of the fireplace, I slowly turned my head.
In Romagna, there were few opportunities to encounter a demon. Not only me, but not even a decent noble in the South would ever meet one.
Except for the Screaming Forest and very few outer areas, the Papal States were as clean as a blank sheet of paper, and I never got to see any demons wandering about.
The first time I ever did encounter the existence of a demon was in the late winter of the year I annulled my first marriage.
Cesare had taken me to the basement of the house, saying he would show me something. I didn’t really remember what had gotten under his skin at the time.
In that basement, I was locked up all night with a gargoyle. It had looked at me like it was about to break through the chains and come tear me limb from limb.
I was out of my mind with fear at the time.
At least in my eyes, the gargoyle, exuding a green glow and shrieking all the while, looked less disgusting than a turtle.
‘Go away!’ and ‘Don’t move!’ was all I could scream. I must have given off quite the impression, terrified out of my mind, because the monster had stopped moving at some point. It curled up and stared at me all night long.
Maybe it was just a coincidence.
“Oh, don’t come…”
The demon moved through the window with its massive black wings swinging in the wind, staring at me while floating. Assuming that the green jewels between those bat-like wings were its eyeballs.
I knew that if I screamed or turned around and started running away, it would catch me in an instant.
Even though my knees were shaking, words still managed to come out of my mouth. “Don’t come near me…”
The demon seemed to admire my struggle.
It was quite bizarre to see its wings drooping, even though it was hanging in the air.
Was that its position to attack? It didn’t look very confident.
“Madam, you have to get u—” The maid, who was about to push through the door, let out a loud scream.
It seemed like she had yelled her throat out. It had such a magnificent and long echo that I had to close off my ears with both hands.
The demon’s drooping black wings instantly spread out and it shot towards the screaming maid.
I heard Ellenia’s voice. Then, a loud rumble like a thunderstorm filled my ears and a flash blinded my vision.