Chapter Four: The Fear Beneath Closed Eyes
I was supposed to go to the bazaar with my husband during the weekend. But before that, my husband invited me to have dinner together.
Although my table manners had improved thanks to Elsa and Arthur, it still made me nervous. Not to mention, I’d be eating with my husband. For a long time, I had a poor eating habit.
As dinner time approached, Elsa was noticeably nervous and pale. She advised, “Would you like to just decline it?” But at the same time, the one who invited me to dinner was my husband. I felt especially motivated because it was the first time he had ever done so.
My husband had begun to show interest in me. As for a reason, it was probably because he had lost his memory, which resulted in loneliness. As for myself, I had said to him that I’d take care of him. After all, a wife could also be categorized as a family. Moreover, I had also told my husband to ask me anything. Therefore, it’d be wrong to refuse my husband, who wanted to depend on me.
I changed into the dress Elsa had prepared for me. Elsa carefully combed my hair before tying it neatly as I sat in front of the dressed.
She then spoke, “Milady’s hair is really glossy and beautiful. To be able to take care of it every day, it’s an honor.”
Elsa combed my hair with great care. It was as if she was handling silk.
That kind of compliment is wasted on me…
Nevertheless, I still felt embarrassed. I proceeded to thank her before slightly lowering my head. I heard a small voice from above. Elsa, who saw everything, gently laughed.
Back at my parents’ house, no one would take care of me. Thus, I had to do everything by myself.
However, after I arrived at the marquis family, I discovered that I didn’t know how to wear a corset properly. Since it was a weapon—no, the pride of a lady—I had requested Elsa’s help. After all, I couldn’t tie the string of the corset on my own. After wearing a transparent chemise, I’d usually have Elsa help me into a corset before putting on a dress. Other than that, Elsa would also take care of my skin and hair. I only knew how to care for the skin on my face—but thanks to Elsa, my skin was always moisturized.
That night’s dress was of a modest, pale, pink color. It may be a simple A-line dress, but it was adorable due to the fact that it was subtly decorated with lace and ribbons.
When I was still at my parents’ house, I’d usually wear hand-me-down dresses from my stepsister and stepmother. They’d usually be stained, torn, or of plain unfit size. When I was about to get married, I carried all those dresses.
However, I was very happy. It was because after getting married, I was able to wear many beautiful dresses that were the perfect size for me.
All of my stepsister’s dresses, which I brought from my parents’ house, were; as per Elsa’s suggestion, ‘Since you already have new dresses, let’s disassemble them, cut them into pieces, re-sewn them into something else, and sell them at the bazaar.’
Therefore, the dress I was presently wearing was also prepared by the marquis family.
I told Elsa that I’d make new dresses several times over the year, but she told me that it was unnecessary. It was because she had prepared ten outfits for spring, summer, fall, and winter.
Such a long list of items was useless to me because I barely even left the mansion.
Instead, I’d entertain myself by slightly modifying the dress, embroidering it, or designing it myself.
The moment I opened my eyes again, I found myself dressed up with beautiful makeup in the mirror. Despite still thinking that it was wasted on me, I had to admit that the dress was pretty.
“Thank you, Elsa.”
“It’s nothing,” Elsa answered with a laugh. Then, she suddenly looked straight at me in the mirror.
“…Milady, you’re about to have a meal with that scummy bas—ahem, your husband, so why don’t you ask for some accessories? They might be necessary for the future.”
“Since I rarely attend night or tea parties, I don’t think that kind of thing is necessary…”
“But at the very least, some hair ornaments…”
“I can’t, for the money of the marquis family belongs to my husband. The lords worked hard to earn such an income; I can’t possibly use it for that…”
When I answered so firmly, Elsa seemed to be dissatisfied. Elsa often told me to buy dresses and jewelry, but I always refused because I considered it’d be a waste of money. He only wanted a trophy wife. Not to mention, my husband had already paid a large sum of 30 million rills for me—so I couldn’t possibly waste any more of his money.
“…But, if you have earrings and a necklace, I can amplify Milady’s beauty into that of a goddess… Then, what about a wedding ring? I think it’s necessary because you’re a married couple.”
In Elsa’s words, my gaze landed upon my left hand.
I wore no ring. The same went for Elsa, but she’d instead wore her ring as a necklace during her work using a thin chain. She had shown me before—the simple, silver ring had a message especially engraved for her on the inside. It was a pity that I couldn’t know what was written because Elsa was so shy, she hid the ring immediately.
Regardless of anything, I was still a 16-years-old girl with some longings. It wasn’t like I yearned for it—but I was indeed fond of the wedding rings worn by loving couples like Elsa and Frederick. I first learned about the existence of wedding rings when I was at my parents’ house. Cedric had taught me. When he was five years old, he told me that he’d give me a wedding ring as a present one day. It ended with him crying after being told that we couldn’t get married. Nevertheless, it was still a very fluffy and warm memory.
Recalling another event that occurred at that time, I inadvertently smiled while looking at my empty ring finger. Elsa tilted her head to me, who laughed so suddenly.
“Fufu, Cedric used to say that he’d give me a wedding ring.”
“Yes, he was the one who taught me about marriage. He also proposed to me. At that time, I remember feeling so nervous. He cried when it was revealed that we couldn’t get married. Later, he gave me a ring made of flowers. I secretly displayed it in my room for a while, floating it on the water. Every time I saw it, I felt happy.”
“He rarely cried, so I was surprised when he started sobbing. Still, I was happy because it meant that kid was serious. I’ve never dreamed of getting married. But he knelt on one knee, took my hand, and proposed to me like a prince.”
It might be because he was trying to do his sister a favor. Elsa giggled and said in a small voice, “How nice.”
She continued, “I also have a younger brother, but he isn’t as cute as yours.”
Elsa shrugged her shoulders. She told me that her younger brother was the same age as me. She had never met her younger brother because he and his other went to the mansion in their territory, where their lord’s family resided, instead of the mansion in the royal capital. Elsa’s mother was said to be her lord’s mother’s maid.
“But, Elsa is still looking forward to his letter?”
“…Or more like the souvenirs that would come with them.”
Elsa turned away. As she turned in the direction of the dresser, I noticed that her ear was reddish. I decided to not mention it because otherwise, Elsa would just fervently deny it. Sometimes, Elsa was not honest with herself. With a straight face, Frederick would say, “That part of her is also adorable.”
Unexpectedly, I heard a knock.
“Milady, dinner is served, so please head to the dining room. My lord is also waiting.”
What I heard was the voice of my maid, Melissa. Elsa went to the door to answer it for me. I stood up while stretching my white gloves to my elbows.
“Milady, are you truly alright? Your complexion is too…”
As Elsa returned, she peered into my face while anxiously furrowing her eyebrows. I laughed and tried to appear as cheerful as possible.
“I’ll be alright. Elsa and Arthur have taught me a lot. Besides, my husband is waiting for me, so I must go. The chefs did their best to prepare the dinner, too.”
Thus, with Elsa, I left my room to head for the dining room.
I usually ate in my room. therefore, it had been a while. The dining room was only used whenever Arthur had to teach me table manners. The dining room of the marquis family was very large and had a long table that could seat 20 people. Wonderful paintings were displayed on the left and right walls.
As I got closer to the dining room, I soon became nervous. My heart was throbbing. A layer of cold sweat appeared on my forehead. My corset was always loose, but it was even looser due to my physical condition that day. However, I still felt suffocated.
“Is Milady alright?”
Elsa, noticing my rigidness, paused to ask me. In turn, I halted as well.
“…Everything will be fine—Elsa has helped me prepare… Moreover, the two of you have taught me table manners…”
“I can guarantee you that the appearance of Milady eating is topnotch, no matter how I look at it.”
Elsa affirmed my words as she gently stroked my back.
How to calm down…?
My hands had begun to tremble. To conceal such a fact, I held them next to my body. I decided to calm my mind, took a deep breath, and closed my eyes—
—but that was a mistake.
As soon as I closed my eyes, I could see my stepmother’s whip.
I was aware that it was merely an illusion. Regardless, I could still feel a sharp pain at the back of my hand, and a small scream leaked out of my mouth.
“Milady, let’s return to your room and take a rest; you look as white as a ghost!”
As I screamed and screamed, I kept shaking my head.
“After all, my stepmother has told me… I have to do it properly… otherwise, something worse is going to happen—!”
As Elsa kept beckoning for me, I could hear the panic in her voice. At the same time, her voice grew further with each second…
On the back of my eyes, I could see my stepmother’s red, lipstick-covered lips drawing a loose arc in the immediate vicinity.
“—Are you going to behave tonight? If even one drop of soup is spilled, you’d be whipped, and would have to go without a meal for the time being.”
The voice of my stepmother, who shouldn’t be here, began to drown Elsa’s voice. As if to reject it, I closed my ears with both hands.
“The way you eat is so unsightly, it’s distasteful.”
“Just looking at it made me sick, even dogs have better mannerisms than you.”
“Look at how Margaret did it. Try to be like her—or, is it impossible, after all?”
No matter how tight I shut my ears, I could hear not only my stepmother but also my stepsister and my father. Then, I could see my father standing up while carrying a whip in one hand. My father’s whipping was many times more painful than my stepmother’s or stepsister’s.
I fervently tried to escape, but I couldn’t because a powerful force seized my arm. I felt suffocated as if I was at the bottom of deep water. My body refused to budge.
“F-father, forgive me, do forgive me, please…”
I’d always desperately beg for mercy. Still, my father never forgave me. As always, he’d grin as he raised the whip. I clenched my teeth and waited for the incoming pain. However, the searing pain which would rip my skin didn’t come at all. Instead, there was a low but firm voice calling for me.
The voice echoed vividly within my eardrums and brought my consciousness back to reality.
Finally, I could open my eyes.
My husband’s face was right in front of me. His good-looking face was distorted in anxiety. Beyond my husband’s shoulders, Arthur, Frederick, and the other servants had similar faces. Beside me, Elsa looked as if she was about to cry.
…Even though there’s no reason to weep for me.
How kind these people are—!
I wanted to reassure them, but my tongue refused to move. On the contrary, I could see the ceiling. I noticed that my legs had buckled—but I didn’t know why.
“Liliana, I will never let you fall, so please entrust yourself to me.”
After my husband had told me so, I felt that my body was floating. There was a firm warmness on the back of my back and thighs. The scent of my husband’s cologne was both refreshing and calming. Somehow, I felt terribly relieved. After my fear had subsided, I lost my strength completely.
“It’ll be alright; everything will be alright, Liliana.”
He whispered to me in a way that despite my fading consciousness, his words still softly yet certainly sank into my heart.