A couple of days have passed and, after exchanging several letters we finally decided on a date for our encounter. I can't say I am thrilled about this meeting however I think it will be a good test.
'I still need to see how I will react to Terrel in this life' in my previous lives, my mind and body had distinct reactions each time. Sometimes I would lose all the strength in my body and fall onto the floor due to the trembling, other times I would just stay completely numb, losing my sense of self with the blink of an eye, becoming a puppet waiting for the puppeteer to play with me.
As the sun bathes my pale skin I see Jade's fit body sweating from all his training. Since I don't have much to do during the day I end up meeting up with Mace, play with Ralph or just watch Jade practice. I wish I could have more opportunities to talk with Duke Wharton but he is a very busy man and, just like with Duke Criswell, I have to be summoned.
Even though Jade arrived a couple of days ago you can see the difference in his body. He is not as underweight as he was and even his complexion is brighter, making him almost look as if he is happy. Of course, I know better, he is nowhere close to feeling something like happiness however he now has a purpose and that's why he is fighting so hard.
I get up from the wooden chair and head towards a small rose bush. The smell of grass and flowers always made my mind feel more at ease, I guess that's one of the few things that hasn't changed.
'A new servant?' I notice a shape of a man walking towards the Duke's room while carrying some teacups on a silver platter. He leaves after a couple of minutes and, after getting a glimpse at his face I shudder.
'That man is...' quickly I head towards a large tree and hide behind it. My head felt dizzy while my body felt faint. Once I noticed he had gone towards the kitchen I fall down on my knees. I was sure I hadn't seen me.
'Those eyes... He is...' I knew that face extremely well. That tanned skin, those dark sadistic eyes and that short light brown hair.
"Master? Is everything alright?" Jade rushes towards me.
"Gilbert Averton" I mumble the name of that man as I clench my fists onto the floor. Jade was down on one knee, looking towards me with a worried expression almost as if he was a small puppy.
"Jade... I need you to be in my room starting tonight." after hearing my words he looks at me flustered and embarrassed.
"But master that's..." I knew he had misunderstood me.
"Someone might be trying to get me killed" his eyes sharpened and suddenly, the puppy I witnessed a couple of seconds ago had now become a man ready to kill without regrets.
"Master, do you have any idea who?"
"The new butler is a professional assassin" his eyes kept focused on mine as he paid attention to every single word I was saying.
"He killed me before and he wouldn't be here if he hadn't been hired but..." still something was confusing.
'Is someone going to assassinate the Duke?' I thought that he might also be a potential victim but soon I erased that possibility. Throughout my lives, the Duke always died suddenly, without any explanation even if sometimes the symptoms changed.
'Could it be Mace?' I considered that maybe Terrel had sent in the assassin to take care of his younger brother but he still lacks power inside the mansion. He doesn't control all the servants and if he tried to kill his younger brothers so early in the game it would only bring him casualties since the Duke would be suspicious of him. In fact, it would be highly likely that Terrell would be disowned.
'So he is here for me' I concluded after considering all the available options however something kept bothering me.
"Who would pay him...?" I mumbled as I continued to create theories inside my head.
No matter how I see it the only difference in this life so far is that Bradley Trace sees me as a rival, as someone he needs to beat no matter what but, even then, he wouldn't want me to die like this. He is competitive and a sore loser besides, his eyes resemble Terrel's, filled with greed and lust.
'He wants to own me not to kill me,' there was no way Bradley had sent him. I actually think that if he knew that I was being targeted he would do anything in his power to punish that person.
Terrel could be a possibility however I have not shown any hostility towards him and I am well aware of how enthusiastic he is with our marriage. He wouldn't ruin his precious goods with death. He was too greedy and lustful to kill me in the first place. Even after my escape in my first life he never hurt my face or even hurt me to the point where I would die. I was his doll and he hated broken merchandise.
The Wharton's are kind to me, even in my other lives, the Duke was always warm and welcoming towards me so there is no way that he could be behind this.
That leaves only one person left: Duke Criswell.
'Did I lost my usefulness or did I became a burden?' even if that man was a mystery, I knew something for certain and that is that the Duke only saw two things in life: how much a person could be useful and how he could use that perk to achieve his purposes. If someone loses this wonderful trait then they need to be disposed of.
Suddenly everything became clear like water to me.
"Duke Criswell is trying to get me killed," I say to Jade as he looks at me in surprise.
"Your father is?" I nod and he punches the tree enraged. I can understand that for someone who lived in a tribe in the mountains, having a father attempting to kill their own child might be a bit too harsh.
The Duke never tried to kill me in my other lives since I was always a valuable card. He needed Amanda to marry Bradley for their granaries, manpower, and wealth while he needed me to marry Terrel for their mines. Even then I am well aware of how much the Duke treasured Amanda, even if Bradley wanted to marry me instead he wouldn't let this matter go.
'So his choice is to lose the mines to secure the Trace's support' I chuckle at this thought.
A filthy, dirty, and disgusting man. Those were the best words to describe him.
"Jade, we can't be suspicious. Keep doing your training during the day however at night you will hide in my room. If he comes knock him out, I want him to have a taste of his own medicine" Jade smirks as he heard my words and leaves, continuing to swing his sword harder than what he was before.
I get up and head towards Mace's room. We were going to play some chess.
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"Checkmate" Mace says with a bright smile on his face.
"Congratulations my lord" Ophelia smiles politely making him sigh.
Mace had been trying his hardest to make her feel comfortable and to become his friend but Ophelia was a tough nut to crack. She was always polite, no matter the situation they were in, and that frustrated him.
"Mace. Congratulations, Mace." Ophelia looked conflicted since she didn't know if she should call him by his name without any honorifics.
"Call me Mace when we're alone, please, it's a personal request" Mace's dark brown eyes were sparkling with anticipation as his kind smile showered Ophelia with warmth.
"Alright... Mace" she mumbled his name and he laughed.
'Finally some progress' he thought as he noticed her flustered expression. He wasn't particularly interested in Ophelia's power as a noble lady of the Criswell's, in fact, he pitied her since he knew how much of a monster his brother was. Throughout the years he had seen horrid scenarios, women that were taken only for his amusement and men who had lost their houses due to defending their honor. Mace wished to change that, to correct his older brother but somewhere within his heart, he knew that was an impossible task.
"Mace... The day I arrived, were there any new maids entering the dukedom?" he looked at Ophelia puzzled without understanding why she was asking such a peculiar question but, even then, he replied.
"There were" his blunt answer made Ophelia feel uneasy.
"Who were they? Do you know?" her eyes were hopeful as if these questions were of extreme importance to her.
"If you tell me why you want to know then I will tell you" Ophelia looks conflicted once again. She didn't want to provide this type of information to Mace, it was too confidential but, at the same time, she really needed to know who were the maids that had arrived that day.
In life, people make decisions, some are wise and good others are regretful and turn into mistakes. Ophelia felt like she was walking straight into a trap and that, most likely, this decision would turn into a regret but even then, she hanged on to the thin strand of hope that he wouldn't use this against her.
'I can't lie to him either way... He will just see right through me again...' Ophelia also knew how cunning Mace was, he could tell when the people around him were lying. How could he do that? She had no clue but she deeply wished to know so she could learn to counter it since it could become a menace for her in the future.
"I think Duke Criswell planted a spy in the estate" Mace's eyes widen and soon his brows furrow down. He was deep in thought as he connected the dots.
"Well, that's something your father would do. Olivia and Ivy started working on the morning of your arrival, the other maids have been working here for weeks, some for months, and years" Mace leans forward and for the first time, she saw a man that she hadn't seen before. His eyes were cold and cautious while his serious expression looked almost as if he had already suspected this. For a glimpse of a second Ophelia thought that Mace should be the one to succeed the Duke instead of Terrel.
"Why do you think your father has spies in here?" he questions while looking at the chess pieces.
'It's not like I can say that the Duke paid an assassin to murder me...' Ophelia didn't want to explain the reasoning behind it. She had suspected that there were spies within the maids but she had no concrete proof however the presence of an assassin changes everything.
She had ordered her maids to burn the letters and it has only passed a couple of days since her order. If there were no one working for the Criswell's in the estate then it would take at least two weeks before they would consider another route however the assassin is already here.
'Someone told the Duke about what happened at dinner,' that was Ophelia's conclusion. She grabs the chess piece symbolizing the Queen on her side of the board and slowly pushes her, making her fall onto the table before rolling onto the floor. Mace understood that this matter had to do with her life but, at the same time, he knew she wouldn't speak further.
"How about another game Ophelia?" seeing her silence Mace decided to remove his pressure. He couldn't push her into opening up otherwise she would just slip away from his grasp, making all the effort he had done so far go into ruins.
✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽
As I left Mace's study room I am greeted by Olivia that was heading towards the back of the garden. She politely smiled at me and asked me if there was anything I needed and, after hearing her answer, she left.
"I wish I had your life Nero" after entering the room and sitting on the chair I look at the black cat that was curled up on the bed. His eyes were looking at me as I let out a sigh.
"Ah... I'm so tired..." I hadn't actually gotten a grip of what had happened today. I don't think I had the opportunity to interiorize the fact that my own blood is trying to get me killed.
I genuinely thought that the majority of my emotions were lost, leaving only hatred within the sorrow and regret but, as I am now faced with something that never happened before, something I never even considered, I feel a sting in my heart.
"Why... Just what did I do wrong..." I place my head between my hands and grab my hair strongly with all the rage I was feeling.
Without me noticing, Nero jumped on top of the table and started rubbing his head against my hands.
"Are you trying to comfort me?" I pet him slightly and he doesn't run away. At that moment I felt the urge to cry but as I was about to I hear someone knock at the door.
"Lord Bradley is here to see you miss" Ivy enters with her golden curls and hazelnut eyes. I was never close with her, she never tried to approach me but maybe that's the only thing she needed to do. Keep an eye on me and not raise any suspicion.
On the other hand, Olivia was the complete opposite. An air-headed woman that looked kind on the outside and that ended up trying her best to be close to me.
One of them was the spy. Maybe both of them had been sent, who knows. Right now everything is based on assumptions and I needed to devise a plan to discover who was the backstabbing snake in this den.
"Tell him I am busy, he should come back another day, after agreeing to a date that will work for both of us, of course" I regain my composure and stare at Ivy's troubled expression.
"But milady..." she is interrupted by a male voice.
"You hurt my feelings like that Lady Ophelia. I even brought you this wonderful gift to thank you for your generosity" Bradley appears from behind the wall holding a big bouquet of red roses.
"My Lord, are you alright? A sane and sincere engaged man wouldn't be courting his fiancées younger sister" he smirks and I head towards the door while Ivy places the bouquet in a small glass jar.
"I wouldn't do such a thing, I am just sending my appreciation towards my fiancées family" his sweet charming voice made Ivy blush.
"Then in that case please don't forget to take some roses to the Duke, I am sure he will be thrilled" I mock him as I see his grin disappear. Of course, I shouldn't be teasing him like this but at this point, I already know how much of an eyesore he is. He doesn't back down and neither do I, so it is just a troublesome situation.
As Bradley was about to reply I notice Gilbert passing by while trying to take a look inside the room. Of course, butlers couldn't exactly enter the room of the ladies, that wasn't a proper thing to do so, understanding his intention I pass through Bradley and close the door.
'Let's play a game little rat' I think as I approach Gilbert.