“Milady! There you are!” Ivy runs as she spots me entering the garden, “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 her face become filled with relief.
‘Why was she panicking this much?’ I couldn’t help but wonder about her strange behavior. It was true that I saved her from that man but I also threatened her, yet, she has become extremely attached to me, seeming almost... loyal.
“We should return, your body is still weak milady,” she turns and I notice a deep bruise on her wrist. I quickly grab her arm.
“Who did this to you?” she flinches at my aggressiveness. My icy eyes glared at her, pressuring her to explain everything thoroughly.
“Milady t-that’s...” she began hesitating, preventing herself from talking 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, 'I swear I will...' I could feel my motivation to chop off his head intensify.
“Go apply some ointment, I’m sure you haven’t gotten it treated,” 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 as to 'why' or 'how' a young maid got such a bruise.
“Master!” Jade yells from the distance.
“Ophelia!” Bradley's voice quickly follows. They run towards us as if they were young kids.
Sweat dripped from their skin as their unsteady breathing was heard once they reached their destination. Their eyes were averting mine, almost as if they were filled with embarrassment.
“But why are you all searching for me so frenetically? It’s not like I’ve been asleep for ages...” I mumble while placing my hand over my forehead, massaging it slightly.
“Actually... You have been asleep for a week... milady...” Ivy stutters and my body flinches. My eyes immediately widened at her statement.
“What did you say!? One week!?” I grab her arms strongly, unconsciously, and speak loudly. Ivy begins turning pale.
‘One whole week... How is this even possible? Wait... That means... Terrel has returned to the estate!?’ I knew exactly what this meant. I couldn't believe I had been asleep for such a long period of time, 'Shit...!' frustration became to possess my body.
"Milady...? You're hurting me..." Ivy mumbles and I wake up from my daydreaming, regaining my composure.
"Forgive me, Ivy," the maid's eyes widen with surprise at my sudden apology, "Jade, go back to the Duke’s mansion immediately,” Bradley looks at me unsatisfied as I ignored his presence.
“Are you sure master?” Jade is greeted with my cold glare, understanding he had overstepped his boundaries, he bows and heads towards the mansion, “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.
“Ivy...” I place my cold hands on her pale cheeks and approach her, whispering into her ear, “Make sure to remember who saved you because if you don’t...”
"Of course milady," she responded immediately and I placed some distance between us. Her eyes weren't wavering, in fact, they looked resolved just like her words, they were sure of their own meaning. I chuckle slightly.
“Now go pack everything... We have a long journey ahead,” Ivy smiles proudly and takes her leave.
“Ophelia, are you alright?” I glare at Bradley who immediately averts his eyes once they connect. His cheeks looked flushed as if he was embarrassed or drunk.
“Lord Bradley, it would be wise to understand your standing,” after hearing my words, he finally looks into my eyes with a serious expression on his face, calm and intrigued, as the blushed cheeks he once had were now pale, “I don't think we are familiar enough to treat each other without honorifics, wouldn't you agree?”
“I love you, Ophelia,” some minutes of silence pass right before these words were expelled from his lips. He looked pitiful, as his eyes sparkled brightly due to the overwhelming of emotions. 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 softly. His eyes glittered with expectation, and then, I stop, “... won’t fall for that," I saw this happen over and over again in the books I had read and on some of the parties I had attended.
'Who does he take me for...?' I chuckle at his pitiful display of power.
“But it was a good attempt,” even then, this had been the better I had seen this technique happen. If I can be honest, I felt my heart flutter but it was just for a second. Gracefully I create some distance between us as a cold smile embraced my lips.
His expression suddenly 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 this world due to his lust, the one who couldn't live without his possessions. As I was turning he quickly grabs my wrist and pulls me towards him, grabbing my waist tightly against his body. His warm hand held my chin up high as his eyes glared down at me.
“You are playing a game you can’t win... I always get what I want,” he grinned as his gaze focused on my light pink lips.
“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, "What are you doing down there?"
‘Perfect timing,’ I head inside, leaving Bradley on his own, trying to come up with different excuses for our behavior.
✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽
“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 and heads towards the door.
She now knew how Devlin was. She had seen his true colors as he chooses her instead of the Duke, the one he had once pledged loyalty to.
'Pathetic...' she chuckles. Even then, Ophelia needed the Earl so, having gained him as a partner was beneficial, at least, until he proved to be useful.
✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽
“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 a really bad shape milady... For three whole days, you had convulsions and you were always with a fever... We all thought you would..." the maid bites her bottom lip.
“How didn’t I die then?” of course I already knew I wouldn’t die due to whatever haunts me. I never die before my 18th birthday and that is the only reason why I drank the poison in the first place. Even though, deep down, at some point, I somehow wished 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...” Ivy opens a little cloth bag and removes some leaves. They were the medicine she was talking about.
‘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 could 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...” she places the leaves again in the small bag.
“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 protecting me so closely.
‘Don’t tell me...’ I chuckle at the thought, ‘Does he actually like me?’
That was the only way to justify his weird behavior. I know he wants to own my heart, apparently, that's what we are 'competing' in but, he could still obtain it even if I stayed at the Wharton's, with Terrel. Everyone knows of the rumors and how much of a filthy man he is. It wouldn't matter, he would still be able to challenge me but if he liked me then everything would change.
'If he fancies me then it is easily explained...' of course, if he wants me then he wouldn't want another man to touch me, and thus, sending me to the Wharton's would be unthinkable, 'Could I perhaps...?'
I quickly disregarded that thought. I learned several times before that, emotions such as "love" are nothing but unstable. They cannot be trusted since in the blink of an eye they can disappear and turn into something completely different. Love is a wildcard that, sadly, I can't use due to its risk.
“Yes, he barely left your side milady and even when Lord Terrel...” Ivy bites her bottom lip, she looked troubled.
“You know I hate repeating myself,” I glare at her coldly. I needed to know everything that happened.
“Lord Terrel tried to go inside the room several times... He insisted on seeing you but Lord Bradley didn't let him and then, one of the times, he...” she breathes a bit while trying to control her trembling wrists, “...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 and himself, “What happened to Millicia?”
“It was awful milady... She...” Ivy’s complexion started to turn pale as she remembered that day's events. 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 fingers were fidgeting as stress clouded her mind.
‘So Millicia 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 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...” she lowers her head in disappointment.
Out of the carriage, the view was beautiful, filled with trees and nature. My eyes wandered as I kept on settling my ideas. I wasn’t expecting Amanda's behavior, her homicidal attempt was something no one could predict.
‘I wonder how the crown will handle this situation...’ my anxious thoughts were all gathering in the same place: Amanda’s punishment.
Usually, high-ranking nobles can get away with anything, no matter what they might do, however, their honor will remained stained for several years. Some were ripped off their titles, others had to pay a fee to the crown, being expelled off the country, actually, there were millions of ways to punish them but none of them included death.
Somehow, within all this chaotic situation I realized I had neglected one important matter: the Duke’s spy. I still didn’t know who was selling information on me and now I knew how angered Alvin was.
‘I was hoping to question Gilbert but I don’t know how long it will take,’ I was frustrated but, even then, remained calm, keeping my posture in check.
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 began to respect me.
“Ivy...” I glare at her coldly, “Why did you start working at the Wharton’s estate?”
“T-That’s...” she grabs her skirt tightly while averting her eyes from mine.
“Did you know Duke Criswell has a spy working under him in the mansion?” 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,” my eyes widen in surprise at her remark. Even if she was trying to play the fearless part, I could easily see through her facade: her knuckles were turning white from her strength as her arms trembled slightly.
‘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 receive any punishment you see fit milady, just please, let me continue serving you.”
‘So she didn’t rat me out? I see... So if she is speaking the truth, 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?” her will remained untouchable even if her body trembled and sweat dripped down her pores.
“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?’ her words sounded made up.
“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 reply coldly.
“I understand milady... Please give me a chance to prove it,” she bows down again right after looking at me with pitiful eyes.
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 an answer 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 and consider your sins cleansed.”
‘Now show me your true side Ivy,’ I grin as I begin placing the puzzle pieces together.