As we reach the mansion Mace and his little brother Ralph were waiting for us.
"Ophelia!" Mace yells as he sights Angel, the white horse.
"I'm back" I jump off the horse and help Ivy down. Ralph was standing behind Mace, staring at us shily.
"Ivy..." I slap her cheek abruptly making her lose her balance and almost fall on the floor.
"Who do you serve?" I glare at Ivy as she places her pale hand on her right cheek.
"I serve you milady"
"Did I order you to go to the castle?" she looked nervous and pitiful.
"No milady" she was well aware that she was in the wrong. If I hadn't ordered her to go meet Terrel then she shouldn't have gone but sadly I am well aware of why she did it.
Terrel holds a lot of power that he has gathered over the years and truthfully, one that denies his advances is for sure doomed, especially if they are from a lower class. There was no way for Ivy to be able to reject Terrel if I hadn't intervened.
"So tell me, Ivy... After this stunt, how do I know where your loyalty lies?" I approach her and she starts placing distance from me. She looked scared.
"Milady..." as she was about to speak I interrupt her.
"Tell me, who are you loyal to? Me? Terrel Wharton? The Duke? Or is it... My father?" Ivy instantly bows down on the floor, tears coming out of her eyes, the exact tears she had been holding for a long time.
"I would never betray you milady! Please you have to believe me! I wouldn't... I never..." she screamed as the fear took control of her body.
"Maybe you are indeed loyal to Terrel, should I send you back there again?" Ivy grabs onto the hem of my skirt as she cried her heart out.
"Please milady, anything but that!" I go down and grab her cheeks forcefully.
"Wouldn't you be happy to have your master take your first time Ivy? Tell me, wouldn't you like to be pregnant with Terrel's child? I can help you achieve that dream" her eyes were filled with horror, she knew that once she had been deflowered she wouldn't be able to marry.
"Ophelia... She just came back, calm down..." Mace tries to control me but I just completely ignore his presence.
"I also heard a rumor... Did you know that Terrel loves to play with planks and whips? How about being raped while being beaten up by Terrel? Don't you want it, Ivy?" I get up and let her go right before she coughs some saliva on the floor. Of course, no one knew about this since this side of him hadn't been created yet but still, it was a perfect tool to scare her.
"Lady Ophelia I am only loyal to you! I'll do anything to prove it!" as I hear her words I smirk.
"Then... Cut your index finger. Show me I can trust you." I toss her a dagger that I had hidden on a bag that Angel was carrying. Ivy was hesitant, she yelled as her tears fell down her face.
"Ophelia! That's too much! Please stop this!" Mace continues to try to stop me but it is useless, this was something that needed to be done. In this estate there were many ears and eyes and, right now, this was their show. Even if I couldn't see anyone, I knew we were being watched from every angle.
"What? You can't? Then you are indeed not loyal to me... I'm afraid you will have to..." as I was about to finish speaking Ivy picks up the knife with her shaking hands. Slowly she starts cutting it.
"Stop!" Ivy's right-hand stops after hearing my words, creating a river of blood that was pouring out from the deep cut in her skin.
"I understand" I go down and remove the knife from her trembling hands right before holding her hands in mine.
"Ivy, don't forget this moment, do you understand?" she tightens her grip as tears poured down from her face.
I could feel it. All the stares for afar. All the gossips in the air. I knew them all and they were about to get caught by surprise.
✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽
"Father!" Amanda bursts into the room holding a letter in her hand.
"She's having a tea party at the Hillgarden's estate! What is the meaning of this!?" Duke Criswell gets startled and drops his quill onto the floor.
"I know, she invited all the nobles" he lets out a sigh as Amanda clenched the letter in her hand.
"Didn't you say you would deal with her?!" she sits on a chair as her legs bounced from her growing anger.
"Amanda, who do you think you are talking to in that tone?" the Duke frowns as a cold shiver runs down on Amanda's spine.
"I'm sorry, father... What can we do?" she is so distraught over her father's words that she wasn't able to calm herself down.
"The party is in less than a week from now so you should get ready for it" Amanda understands that the Duke wanted her to leave and so she did.
As she walked the long corridors she threw Ophelia's invitation letter onto the floor and stepped on it with all her might.
"Clean this up" she states to Lanna, her personal servant right before heading alone to her room.
Meanwhile, the Duke was wondering about the complex situation that had arisen in his study room.
"She's here milord" a butler appears and the Duke nods.
"So, is it done?" he asks after ordering his servant to leave. In front of him, there was a woman covered by a large dark hood.
"No milord. Gilbert was beaten and is currently recovering" she declares with her sweet voice.
"Do you think she knows?"
"In my humble opinion, I think it was just a pure coincidence. I witnessed it, he was disrespectful towards her and was punished accordingly, that's all." the woman kneels.
'Still, this is a troublesome situation. I wanted to get rid of her before the party...' the Duke felt the accumulation of stress increase.
"What about that slave? What is your judgment?"
"I don't think there's a need for concern. Slaves can easily be bought" the woman grins while Alvin Criswell nodded in consent.
"Indeed... What about poisoning her?" the Duke wanted her to dissipate from this world.
"It is possible but too risky milord" hearing the spy's words made him place his hands on his forehead. This conversation was giving him a headache.
That suggestion didn't even sound like something that Duke Criswell would think about and he knew it. This was the work of despair and rage. Alvin knew that trying to poison Ophelia would be a great risk since you cannot predict the outcome. Firstly, he was aware that someone else might die to the poison; secondly, he doesn't know if Terrel Wharton has people working for him in the mansion and, if Ophelia does die in such a way, then he won't stop until he finds the culprit; thirdly, if she does die in the Wharton's estate, the relationship built between the two noble houses would easily crumble into pieces.
"Alright, keep me informed" the woman bows and takes her leave.
'Ophelia... How did you grow up to be like this? You should've just obeyed quietly!' his hands push all the papers he had on the desk onto the floor, perhaps it was due to the anger he was feeling inside or maybe it was because he had finally understood that his plans were being shattered by his own blood.
"Maybe... The tea party! We can easily... That's it!" he grins as he had realized the great turn of events.
✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽
"I see you have recovered" several days had passed and as I was walking towards the Duke's study room I am greeted by Gilbert, who looked at me with blood lustful eyes.
"Yes milady, I am feeling better" he bows down politely and I grin.
"Please don't push yourself" I declare just to see his glare.
'You are smart enough to understand it, right, Gilbert Averton?'
"Then milady, I shall take my leave" he bows and quickly heads towards the kitchen.
'It shouldn't take long now...' part of me was fearful of the upcoming events but, at the same time, the other half was eager to see the despair portraited in the face of that prideful man.
"Enter" the Duke orders and I walk inside the room. He was already sitting on the couch while drinking some tea.
"Thank you for having me Duke" I bow.
"Ophelia dear... Please, call me father" he smiles as I pick up the teacup.
"I'm sorry father" I was definitely not used to acting this friendly with the Duke even though he always treated me as if I were one of his own.
"I've been terribly busy but I wanted to ask you... How was your time with my son, Terrel?"
'Ah... Shit' part of me knew that the Duke had something on the back of his mind.
"It was pleasant even if it was short"
"I see... I am glad. I know that Terrel has a complicated personality but I always hoped that someone would accept him as he is" the pain behind the Duke's honest words made a pang of sudden guilt embrace me.
The fact that I am intending to kill Terrel, his first-born son, is evidently an act of betrayal of his trust but, even then, I have no other choice.
"I understand father. I will do my best" I bluntly lie. There's no way I will try my best. I will get rid of him once he lays foot in this estate. I've come too far to let my resolve waver for such a silly matter such as compassion.
"Are you prepared for the tea party tomorrow my dear?" swiftly he changes the subject, making the tension in the room disappear.
"Of course Duke. Do you already know if you will be able to attend?"
"I will try," that meant that he, most likely, would be too busy to be present.
'He must be having a tough time with the mercenaries...' the mines owned by the Wharton's were always watched by other noblemen and mercenaries. Only some months before my death was Terrel able to contain the several robberies that occurred daily from the mines.
'How did he do it...?' I kept on trying to recall what made all the noblemen and mercenaries back down from their pressure and stealing.
"It is getting late, you should get ready for dinner my child" he gets up and pats my head softly right before sitting behind his desk once again. My heart fluttered when I felt his warmth on me. The feeling of being cared about was something I thought I had lost long ago.
✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽
"So the party is tomorrow..." Lady Catherine opens the invitation once again. She had been eagerly waiting for this day and her heart pounded every time she read Ophelia's letter.
She already knew that the second daughter of Duke Criswell was special. She'd known ever since she found her eyes stuck to her during her ball. Whenever she thought of that slim figure, her long charcoal hair and those eyes that made the tides cower in envy, her desire increased. Catherine couldn't wait for tomorrow, the excitement flooded her veins and in her head, there was only space for The Black Rose.
"Milady" a young man in his twenties gets up from the bed. His muscular tanned body was illuminated by the moonlight as his brunette hair fell onto his shoulders.
'Ophelia...' she thought about everything she had heard from her eyes and ears these past days. Duke Criswell was trying to get her killed and Catherine knew it.
'I wonder how she will react tomorrow' Catherine couldn't wait to watch the theatre open its curtains.
"I'll be right there" she was finishing her cigar as the young man approached her from behind and placed his warm hands on her naked shoulders. He then moves them down softly, making Catherine's tingle with pleasure.
"Kids sure are impatient these days" she gets up right before pushing him onto the bed.
"Now entertain me" Catherine smiles as her lust eagerly embraces the young man's body.