“Milady! There you are!” Ivy runs as she spots me entering the estate, “We were all so worried... You disappeared and... Ah...” she tries to catch her breath.
“I’m alright Ivy” I smile politely just to see the relief in her face.
‘Why was she panicking this much?’ I couldn’t help but wonder about her strange behavior. Yes, I had saved her from Terrel but I also threatened her deeply. She should have grown scared of me but somehow she seems closer?
“We should return, your body is still weak milady” she turns and I notice a bruise on her wrist. I quickly grab her arm.
“Who did this to you?” she flinches as I glared at her.
“Milady t-that’s...” she was afraid of replying but as I tighten my grip she spills the beans, “Lord Terrel”
‘That bastard... So you can control everything around me, is it?’ I chuckle at the thought of his naiveness. My patience was growing thin and, after what I witnessed at the tea party I felt like I was ready to burn my past fears to the ground.
“Go apply some ointment, I’m sure you haven’t gotten it treated right?” I hit the bull's eye and she gulps. Of course, she couldn’t go treat it so carelessly at the Earl’s mansion, it would only raise questions.
Both Jade and Bradley run towards us. Sweat dripped from their skin as their unsteady breathing calmed down once they reached their destination. Their eyes were averting mine since I was only dressed in a nightgown.
“But why are you all searching for me so frenetically? It’s not like I’ve been asleep for ages...” I mumble.
“Actually... You have been asleep for a week... milady...” Ivy stutters and I flinch.
“What did you say!? One week!?” my eyes widen and my voice grows louder as I understand how serious the problem was.
‘One whole week... How is this even possible? Wait... That means... Terrel has returned to the estate!?’
“Jade, go back to the Duke’s mansion immediately” Bradley looks unsatisfied as I ignored his presence.
“Are you sure master?” I glare at him and he bows, “As you command”, I was aware he didn’t understand my reasoning but I needed him there, he is my eyes and ears after all. He takes his leave.
“Ivy...” I place my cold hands on her cherry-colored cheek, “Make sure to remember who saved you because if you don’t...” contrary to my expectations, her eyes didn’t waver, they looked resolved, almost as if what I said was nothing but something natural for her, “Now go pack everything... We have a long journey ahead.”
“Ophelia, are you alright?” I glare at Bradley who was still looking away from me.
“Lord Bradley, it would be wise to understand your standing, wouldn’t it?” he finally looks into my eyes however, his frustrated expression didn’t go along with his somewhat blushed cheeks, “We are not familiar enough to be treated without honorifics isn’t that right?”
“I love you Ophelia” his pitiful face made his eyes sparkle, almost as if he was about to shed a tear. His lips carried a sleek smile, attractive but at the same time, kind.
“Bradley I...” I approach my lips to his while my hand caressed his cheek. His eyes glittered with expectation, and then, I stop, “... won’t fall for that.”
“But it was a good attempt” I state after creating some distance between us.
His expression changes and so does his tone, his charming self was gone, giving birth to the angel that had fallen from grace, the one who came to earth due to his lust, the one who couldn’t bear to lose. As I was turning he grabs my wrist and pulls me towards him, grabbing my waist as his hand held my chin.
“You are playing a game you can’t win... I always get what I want” he grinned.
“Lady Ophelia? Lord Bradley?” a female’s loud voice is heard and he quickly lets go of me. We both look up and see Patricia leaning on the window ledge.
‘Perfect timing’ I head inside, leaving Bradley on his own.
✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽
“I’m glad to see you have finally recovered, our hearts were filled with concern” Earl Hillgarden states as he drinks a little bit of his coffee.
“I am truly thankful for your hospitality” Ophelia smiles politely.
“It was my pleasure, if you ever require any assistance please don’t hesitate to ask” Ophelia understood what the Earl meant.
‘So he chose me... Foolish man’ she picks up her cup and drinks a little bit of the tea that had been prepared.
“Earl, I’ll make sure to remember your kindness” he smiles at her remark.
‘Indeed... Ophelia Criswell, I’ll make sure to use you to your fullest potential’ he knew that she was not a simple-minded girl, she was cunning and after what he had seen he understood how dangerous she could be, however, she was indeed a great tool towards his goal.
‘I’m tired of that man’s empty promises and I just found myself a treasure’ his grin showed his satisfaction.
“Well I shall be going Earl, it was a pleasure” Ophelia politely leaves the room.
✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽
“So, what exactly happened after I passed out?” as the horses' galloping sounds embraced the air, Ivy and I stared at each other.
“Where to start...” Ivy looked unsure about what to talk about first, “Lord Bradley took you to the room, and then Jade appeared... You were in really bad shape milady... You were with high fevers and had convulsions for three days...”
“How didn’t I die then?” of course I already knew I wouldn’t die. I never die before my 18th birthday, that is the only reason I drank the poison in the first place. Even though, deep down, I somehow wish it would’ve been lethal, ‘Since that would mean that everything would be over’
“I was very surprised too... A servant of Lady Catherine appeared and gave us some medicine...”
‘Lady Catherine? Was it a coincidence?’ something wasn’t adding up, ‘Why would she bring medicine to a tea party unless...’
“She already knew...” I mumbled as I realized the imminent danger.
“What milady?” Ivy didn’t hear what I said.
“Nothing, please continue” I smile politely giving her some reassurance.
‘How much does she know? How does she know? What is she after?’ I never had a close relationship with Catherine in my past lives so my information on her is scarce but something inside me is telling me that she isn’t a normal woman.
“Then we all stayed with you all this time...”
“Was Lord Bradley there all along?” I frown at her words. I knew Bradley had a strange obsession with winning since I had stricken his fragile ego but, even then, he wouldn’t gain anything from it.
‘Don’t tell me...’ I grin at the thought, ‘Does he actually like me?’
Well if he did then it would be stupendous. A man whose power and status is feared by more than half of the Kingdom is a great tool but still... Feelings like ‘love’ fade in a second so it would be too risky to use a tool that can break in the middle of the journey.
“Yes, he barely left your side milady and even when Lord Terrel...” Ivy bites her tongue, she looked troubled.
“You know I hate repeating myself”
“Lord Terrel tried to go inside the room several times... He insisted on seeing you but Bradley never let him inside and then, one of the times, he...” I glare at her, “...grabbed me and was forcing me to let him enter but Jade helped me, that’s how this happened” she places her hand over her bruised wrist.
“I see...” indeed, Terrel was a self-centered man of culture, knowing nothing besides violence, “What happened to Milly?”
“It was awful milady... She...” Ivy’s complexion started to turn pale, she didn’t look alright but, after calming herself down she continued, “Earl Hillgarden questioned her and she bit her tongue off... Then she was taken by the royal guards... I heard her execution will be two days from now” her hands were fidgeting.
‘So Milly went that far... Going against the Duke was a risk but I hoped that the silly country-bumpkin would come clean...’ I couldn’t help but feel a weird feeling grow inside of me, something between uncertainty and desire, ‘Milly... You must be very lucky indeed...’ I grin.
“What about the Duke and my sister?” I continue the conversation.
“I think they just left the party milady... I couldn’t bear seeing that maid like that so I went to check on your condition...”
I look out the window. I wasn’t expecting my sister to attempt to kill me in front of so many nobles, it was indeed unexpected.
‘I wonder how the crown will handle this situation...’ my anxious thoughts were all gathering in the same place: Amanda’s punishment.
Somehow, within all this chaotic situation I had neglected one important matter: the Duke’s spy. I still didn’t know who was selling information on me.
‘I was hoping to question Gilbert but I don’t know how long it will take’ I bite my bottom lip in frustration.
I glance at Ivy. She was indeed a perfect maid. Compared to Olivia she wouldn’t try to approach me unnecessarily and was a hard worker, always doing her jobs properly. Even after the Terrel incident, she didn’t grow afraid of me, instead, she looked almost as if she respected me.
“Ivy...” I glare at her, “Why did you start working at the Wharton’s estate?”
“T-That’s...” she grabs her skirt tightly.
“Did you know Duke Criswell has a spy working under him in the dukedom?” I grin, “That wouldn’t happen to be you, would it?”
She remains silent and nervous but then, after some minutes, she looks towards me with eyes filled with resolve and confidence.
“Yes milady, the Duke paid me to deliver him with information” even if she was trying to play the fearless part, I could easily see through her facade.
‘Isn’t this too easy...?’ I frown at her answer. I was not satisfied.
“But he never summoned me or gave me another contact so I was never able to provide it for him” she bows down her torso, “I will fully receive any punishment you see fit milady”
‘So she didn’t rat out on me? I see... So there is someone else who provided everything he needed’ I grin as I understood the situation.
The Duke would never hire a spy without checking her background but Ivy didn’t seem like a bad woman, to begin with. She was likely replaced by another person, or several, who knows at this point.
“Rise,” she sits straight, “Why are you confessing it now? It only makes you seem like a liar... Are you really not delivering information on me?” she remained unmovable even if her legs trembled slightly.
“Milady, you came to my rescue when I thought everything would be lost. I am aware you didn’t do it out of consideration, I know that much from observing you but... If I may... Lady Ophelia, I am proud to serve you” from the look in her eyes it didn’t appear as if she was lying.
‘A maid is proud to serve someone? Is this some sort of distasteful joke?’
“Proud to serve me?” I frown.
“I can’t explain why but, I feel that if I support you I will be able to be fulfilled” she smiles kindly.
“Those are really pretty words Ivy but... I’m afraid I don’t believe in them”
“I understand milady... Please give me a chance to prove it” she bows down again.
I remain silent for several long minutes.
‘Do I need to read between the lines?’ this all seemed too simple. Ivy’s confession and her affection towards me almost seemed planned, like a theatrical play, however, at the same time, she didn’t appear as if she was being untruthful.
There were a lot of questions in my head and sadly I didn’t have any reply to them.
‘She almost cut her finger off... No one would do something like that if they didn’t have a strong objective in mind but...’ I think, deep down, I wanted to believe in Ivy since I had seen how far she was willing to go to show her loyalty.
“You may rise” as I watched her figure straighten, several ideas ran through my wicked mind, “Then let’s see it, find the spy that has been selling information to the Duke”
‘Now show me your true side Ivy’ I grin as I start to put the puzzle pieces together.