Chapter 1 - Prologue
“Is the bathroom far away? I can walk on my own.”
“It’s not far, but the floor is dirty. You might hurt your feet.”
Martha wasn’t kidding when she said that. The first hall they entered was the cleanest one. The further they got into the hallway, the more it was a mess of unrecognizable mold. Seria wondered what that mold was. The Berg family was the most powerful apart from the Imperial Family. Who would believe that the manor, which was the foundation of the main mansion, was in such a mess?
Seria didn’t think she would want to wash in the bathroom either, but fortunately, the bathroom was clean. Martha filled the empty bathtub with some warm water, and Seria slowly soaked herself in.
As she was soaking in the bathtub, she realized that her body was not quite as frozen as she thought. While she was half passed out on the horse, Lesche held on to her tightly. She felt strange, probably because his body’s heat was transferred to her in some small way.
After she was fully immersed in the warm water, Seria told Martha what happened to her and Lesche.
“Oh, my God. So that’s what happened.”
“When I saw His Highness and the young lady for the first time, I thought His Highness kidnapped you and was going to hide you here.”
“His Highness is not that kind of person, is he?” Seria asked.
“He’s more emotional than he seems.”
Martha said with a laugh.
It certainly wasn’t the wrong word. If Seria didn’t read the original, she would never have agreed with her… Because Lesche, who was cold and heartless all the way through, and whose life was strangely like a malaise, realized his feelings for the female protagonist and rushed into it without even looking back.
Yeah, rather, it was accurate to say he moved on instinct. In the original novel nothing paralyzed his reason except Lina. So it was appropriate to say Lesche was emotional.
“Now, tilt your head back.”
Seria did as Martha asked and bent her head back. Martha soaked her head with warm water and washed it while lathering it. The lather smelled like homemade soap from the mansion.
It seemed that her scalp was frozen in the cold. After raising the body temperature several times with warm water, her whole body became drowsy. She blinked and looked around the bathroom. She realized that the bathroom was very rustic. The bathroom in the annex where she stayed was many times fancier than this.
Perhaps Martha sensed Seria’s curiosity and replied.
“This is the bathroom we use. It’s hard to use the other bathrooms.”
“Is there anyone else here?”
“There are three of us. There is a gardener and, oh, there is a maid. She’ll hang your clothes out to dry when the wagons arrive.”
Seria was puzzled. At first, she thought that the reason why the manor was so dirty was because they didn’t have enough hands. It kind of hit her that Lesche decided to close down the manor and only kept a few people to manage it. She thought it was such a mess because it was naturally difficult to clean…
“The garden outside is very bad for having a gardener, isn’t it?”
“If His Highness had told us the Young Lady was coming, the gardener would have pulled the weeds out the day before.”
‘Pull weeds in the winter?’
“That’s very kind of you.”
“Wait a minute, Young Lady.”
She left Seria alone in the bath for a while, then came back with a pair of slippers in her hand.
“I happened to have a new pair of slippers. I think I’ll fit you.”
After her bath, Martha dried Seria’s head with a towel, then suddenly asked,
“Oh, is this Stern’s signature? I’ve only heard of it.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“My God, it’s really strange that it’s a red dot.”
It was a star-shaped red dot in the center of the back of Seria’s neck. No one could imitate it because it was a sign of God that could never be found on anyone else, and because imitation could lead to blasphemy. Come to think of it, in the original story, there was an episode where Lina wore her hair up to show her star mark at a ball dance and crushed the nobles who looked down on her.
Seria could have done the same, but she didn’t bother to raise her hair and show her mark to prove that she was a Stern. The reason was well understood. Because most things could be solved just by raising her eyebrows and glared at her opponent as if she would kill him.
She couldn’t believe how easy Seria made it look.
Martha applied some fragrant oil to Seria’s hair and then combed it.
“My lady, can you stick out your feet?”
Seria casually stuck out her foot. Martha gently grabbed her feet and put on the slippers. Seria blinked. She didn’t notice it earlier because of the bubbles and sponges, but there were many calluses on Martha’s hands.
Was she a knight? Bibi’s hands were like this, too.
Seria didn’t know exactly who Martha was, but her hands felt like it was from someone who had been holding something heavy and hard like a sword for a long time. But her smile was very warm, perhaps from practicing it for a while.
Speaking of which, it seemed that there were no other servants in this Laurel Manor, did Martha take care of this spacious manor by herself? Why would His Highness leave this mansion unattended? Did something happen?
For that matter, Lesche didn’t seem to be on bad terms with Martha, so what was the reason for leaving her to struggle with this large manor?
This event wasn’t even mentioned in the original story, so Seria was limited to guessing. She wiped her face with the towel Martha gave her and looked around the bathroom again. Even at the corners of this slightly clean bathroom, black mold was gradually growing.
Linon, Berg’s chief aide, was trembling. He actually didn’t like coming to the Laurel Manor very much.
There were many reasons, but the biggest reason was that the manor was dirty. No matter how beautiful and ancient it looked, Linon never liked it when it was occupied by those fungus-like black shadows.
“This green mansion is still the same.”
The middle-aged man who handed him a dry towel smiled at Linon’s wistful words.
“It’s always been that way. Ever since that day.”
“Is it not inconvenient for you to live here, Ben?”
“There’s nothing inconvenient about it. I’ve been here for more than a decade.”
The middle-aged man named Ben was neatly dressed in a black suit, mostly worn by the butlers of the Glick Empire. In his front pocket, there was a monocle hung at an angle.
Linon said in a frustrated voice.
“I’ve heard people wonder why the butler of the Grand Duchy of Berg wasn’t there at the mansion. You can just tell His Highness to allow you back at the main mansion.”
“Do you have a lot of visitors at the mansion?”
“No. If it weren’t for Lady Seria’s wedding this time… Oh, that’s right. You just asked me who Lady Seria was.”
Linon was shivering so much from the cold that he forgot what he was going to say. Linon was particularly sensitive to the cold. He pressed his face in a dry, warm towel that Ben had brought, then he continued talking.
“No one would predict that the Grand Duke of Berg would marry like that… It was fortunate that it was also Stern’s wedding. If such an accident happened during an ordinary lady’s wedding, it would have been a disgrace to His Highness.”
“His Highness would never marry to save a woman other than Stern.”
“Hmm, that’s true.”
In fact, it was an embarrassing wedding, and it had already been a very tumultuous wedding in the imperial world for years. Even after all the people in the social world had stopped gossiping, the disastrous Stern’s wedding would be a story that would be carried down from generation to generation.
They would say ‘there was such a ridiculous story in our time…’
It was a story comparable to the royal family’s scandal.
Anyway, Lesche had made Seria the Grand Duchess, and brought her to this Laurel Manor, because that’s what the master wanted, and no one dared to disobey.
“So…that’s what happened. I normally call her Lady Seria or Lady Stern. The wedding is not yet officially sanctioned by the imperial family because it’s unique, so the titles are mixed.”
“The imperial family always approves grand duke’s marriages late. It’s traditional, so there won’t be a problem. Then we’ll call you Lady Seria.”
Ben was a gentle butler, as gentle as he gave the impression to be. He asked, suddenly remembering, as he helped Linon fold the poorly done towel.
“By the way, Linon.”
“Speaking of Seria Stern, I remember her. Isn’t she that brutal and arrogant Stern whom you bad mouthed the year before last?”
Linon fell silent. He turned around for a moment with an ominous feeling that Seria might be glaring at him. There was no one there, perhaps she was still taking a bath. He thought.
‘You’re still in the bath, aren’t you? Not yet…’
“Um… That was two years ago. She’s changed a lot in that time….”
Linon whispered quickly.
“Please don’t ever spill what I said to Lady Seria. Since we are on good terms now, I wish to keep it that way.”
“I’m sure you do. But how much has her attitude changed?”