Sable stared distractedly at the book she was holding in her hand. She had been reading the same page over and over again, but it was to no avail. With a tired sigh, she shut the book.
Being in the greenhouse triggered memories that she wanted to forget.
“I’m heading back to my room.” She informed Isadora, who had come back with her to the library.
“...I apologize, Sable.”
Sable jolted in shock.
“I was trying to make you feel better, but I just made you feel worse, didn’t I?”
Isadora felt guilty for insisting that Sable join her outside. Sable was clearly not feeling well, but she practically forced her to go.
“No, do not blame yourself, Lady Isadora. It isn’t your fault.” Sable tried to soothe her worries.
No one was to blame for what happened at the greenhouse. Even Sable, herself, did not expect to be reminded of her old master.
“Are you sure?” Isadora’s tearful expression made Sable twitch uncomfortably. It was not her intention to make the daughter of the Grand Duchess cry.
“Yes, I’m sure.” She hurriedly responded. “So please don’t cry… Isadora.”
Isadora looked surprised, but she soon broke out into a happy grin. It was the first time that Sable had called her without the honorifics.
Sable sighed in relief.
“If it’s not too much to ask, would you like to join us for dinner again, Sable?” Isadora asked with a hopeful expression.
“Of course.” Sable readily agreed. She did not want to make the girl in front of her cry again.
“Then I will go inform Mother.” Isadora excitedly stood up. “I’ll send a servant to summon when the time comes.”
Sable nodded and they left the library.
Arriving at the guestroom, Sable said her farewell to Isadora. Isaac took up his post by her door.
Shutting her door, she moved to sit on the bed. Once she could no longer hear Isadora, she closed her eyes and flopped back onto the bed.
After a beat of silence, the only sound that could be heard in the room was a soft humming.
Avinya was humming softly as they walked through the forest.
“Master, what is that song you’re humming?” It wasn’t the first time that Sable had heard it.
“Just a song.” Avinya gave her a half-hearted answer. Sable was becoming used to this. Her master never said much about her life before she became an alchemist, and she would deflect or ignore Sable outright whenever she asked a question that wasn’t related to alchemy.
Today, they were out on an excursion to stock up their supply of herbs, but it also doubled as field training for Sable. Aside from studying her master’s books, Sable often accompanied Avinya when she went out, but her task was to identify the herbs and explain its uses to her master.
It was during their walks that Sable could ask questions as her master was often busy conducting her research, and Sable could only act as an observer in order to avoid any accidents.
“Tell me, Sable, do you always accept what everyone tells you?” Avinya gave her a sidelong glance.
“What?” Sable frowned in confusion.
“You’re clearly curious about me, but whenever you ask a question, you always expect to be refused.”
Just like Sable, Avinya had been observing her these past few months. She was expecting a sheltered little girl, but to her surprise, Sable was a quick learner and she easily adjusted to taking care of herself and doing chores around the house.
Of course, that wasn’t the only thing she noticed. Avinya could tell that Sable restrained herself often. If there was a book that she could not reach, rather than asking for help, Sable would move the chair over and stand on it. A noble girl like her should be used to having servants assist her, but Sable strangely tried to do everything herself.
“Father said I shouldn’t ask unnecessary questions.” Sable’s answer made Avinya scoff.
It was clear from their first meeting that Sable was trapped under her father’s thumb. Even as her father left her behind with someone, who was practically a stranger to Sable, she silently accepted her fate without protest, as if she didn’t have a say in the matter.
“Do you always do everything your father tells you?”
Sable didn’t answer.
“I suppose a child like you doesn’t have much of a choice.” Avinya commented to herself.
“What would you do, Master?” Sable was curious. “If you were in my position.”
Her master thought for a moment.
“I would probably find a way to kill him.”
Her response was so nonchalant that it took Sable a moment to process her words. She stared at her master in shock.
“Ah, but your father is a careful man, so I’d need to find a way where I could get away with it.” She continued to speak her thoughts aloud until she noticed Sable’s expression.
“Is something the matter, Sable?”
“...Isn’t that wrong?”
Avinya gave her an incredulous look before she started laughing at her.
“Oh, you poor, ignorant child, he truly didn’t tell you a thing.” Avinya did not bother to hide the condescending tone in her voice.
“And he left me with the responsibility to tell you, what a despicable man.”
She sighed. Any sign of amusement faded from her face as she unblinkingly stared at Sable.
“What did you think you were here for?”
“I-I thought we were doing research.” Sable, who was flustered, stuttered out a response.
“Child, I make poisons for a living, what do you think happens to those poisons?” Without waiting for Sable’s response, she answered her own question.
“They’re used to kill people. You’re a smart girl, you should’ve figured that out.”
Avinya narrowed her eyes in suspicion.
“Unless you deliberately chose to ignore the facts in front of you.”
While it was true that Sable realized that the nature of their research was dangerous, she did not want to think about the possibility that their actions would lead to the death of others. There was also the fact that her father was more than likely aware of what he was doing when he left Sable here, and she wasn’t sure what to think about that.
Her master spoke up. What she said made Sable tremble in fear.
“Don’t worry, Sable, sooner or later you’ll have to dirty your hands.”
Avinya gazed at her with pity.
“You want to be useful to your father, don’t you?”
A knock on the door gathered her attention.
“Sable? Are you awake?” Isadora’s muffled voice could be heard outside the door.
Sable listlessly stood up from the bed and looked at the clock. It was time for her promised dinner with Isadora and the Grand Duchess.
She made her to the door, and just before opening it, she schooled her expression into a neutral one. She could do little to hide the dark circles under her eyes, but she didn’t want to make the others more worried than they already were.
She opened the door in time to see Isadora reaching out to knock again. Seeing her standing there, Isadora was surprised for a moment, but quickly smiled.
“Shall we go join Mother?” Isadora asked.
Sable nodded. She gave a small greeting to Isaac.
The trio headed to the dining hall. Along the way, Isadora reached out and held Sable’s hand, much to her surprise. She froze, not knowing how to react to the intimate gesture.
“L-Lady Isadora?” She stared at their clasped hands.
Isadora frowned when she heard her.
“Why are you adding the formality? Just call me Isadora.” She pouted. “And I’m holding your hand because we’re friends, aren’t we?”
She held up their hands for Sable to look at as she asked the question.
“...Right.” Sable agreed. The concept of friendship was still foreign to Sable, but she did not want to make the other girl cry again.
Their hands remained clasped together until they arrived at the dining hall. The Grand Duchess was already sitting and smiled as she saw them.
“I’m glad you could join us, Sable.”
“I apologize for being unable to join these past few days, Your Grace.” Sable bowed her head, but Adelaide stopped her.
“No need to apologize, Sable. It would be rude of me to force a guest when they are still recovering.”
“Thank you for your consideration.”
“I’ve heard from my daughter that you’re quite knowledgeable, Sable.” Adelaide changed the subject.
“Mother!” Isadora blushed, embarrassed.
Sable didn’t realize, but she was seen favorably among the residents of the castle for being well-mannered and polite. It also helped that the beloved young lady of the castle, Isadora, was brighter than usual to have a new friend her age, whom she could talk to.
“I’m just doing what you asked of me.” Sable did not think much of her actions and tried to politely turn down the compliment, but Adelaide was one step ahead of her.
“And for that I am grateful.” Adelaide replied. Unable to refute her, Sable awkwardly nodded.
“If you don’t mind me asking, where did you learn about all of those subjects?” Adelaide asked curiously.
Sable fixed her gaze on a spot on the table.
“I was taught when I was younger, and the rest I learned from the books in my family’s library.” After taking a moment to think, she chose the safe answer. It would be hard to explain that her knowledge came from her past life, when she was sixteen-years old.
To the others, it appeared as though Sable was reluctant to mention her family, but as she was looking down, Sable didn’t notice their concern.
“Well, it is certainly impressive that you managed to learn so much in such a short time.” Adelaide commented. It was not simple flattery.
When Adelaide requested her to help Isadora with her studies, she only wanted to create an opportunity for Sablel and Isadora to get along. Much to her and the others’ surprise, Sable proved herself to be a capable tutor. She was modest about it, but she was clearly an intelligent girl.
“I agree with Mother, Sable.” Isadora added. “And without your help, I wouldn’t have been able to understand everything so easily.”
Sable awkwardly shifted in her seat as they praised her.
Back when she lived in the Marquis’s mansion, it was expected of her to learn everything at a rapid rate. If she wasn’t well-versed in a subject, then the Marquis would look at her with disappointment. In hindsight, it was likely that the Marquis was deliberately looking for any reason to point out her faults, and she didn’t need to learn so much, but the damage was already done.
“...Why are you so kind to me?” She finally voiced the question that had been floating around the back of her head.
Sable could not understand why the Grand Duchess and Isadora were treating her so nicely. She knew it was normal to treat a guest with courtesy, but she felt that she hadn’t done anything noteworthy to deserve their kindness.
“In the North, it is normal to treat one another like friends and family.” Adelaide calmly explained. There was a hint of sadness in her voice. “If we did not do so, we would not have been able to survive here for so long.”
“What do you mean?” Sable tilted her head to the side.
“I’m sure you’re aware of this, Sable, but a person cannot survive alone in the North. They would not only have to deal with the elements, but also the beasts who inhabit the forests. With others, however, they can stand a chance.”
“I treat you with kindness because I understand the importance of trust, and it is my duty to protect those who live in the same lands as I do. I realize that others may not share that sentiment, and I know that I cannot right the wrongs of your past, Sable, but it is my sincere wish that you can find it in yourself to trust again.”
“...You would be waiting a long time.” Sable quietly responded.
“I will wait as long as it takes.” Adelaide gently smiled at her.
“As will I.” Isadora nodded alongside her. “Like I said, we’re friends, aren’t we?”
Sable found her vision blurring with tears, and a small warmth blossomed in her chest.
Sable slowly got up and stretched.
After their dinner last night, Sable had a pleasant, dreamless sleep. While she could not trust the Grand Duchess and Isadora entirely, Sable felt that she could lower her guard around them.
At the very least, she renewed her determination to help them.
As she was deciding her next course of action, she heard a knock at her door. Getting up from the bed, she opened it.
Pierce bowed in greeting.
“Good morning, Lady Sable. Her Grace has instructed me to inform you that Grand Duke Lione has returned.”