Chapter 2 - Decided Fate
Covering her dirtied and bruised face with a washcloth, Edna silently walked to lay the firewood in the next room. Upon entering the room, she went white with fear and concealed her face with both hands, body stiffening. The conversation that took place between the three people earlier kept playing in her ears. A plot to gull the King and the Duke.
Edna stood tall and murmured inwardly, ‘To think that they would devise a plan to deceive both the King and the Duke, completely disregarding the life of another person just so they could evade an immediate inconvenience. They must be crazy. How could they do this otherwise?’
Everyone in the castle knew that there was nothing Viscount William would not do to retain his assets and social status. Nevertheless, not even in her dreams had she imagined he would be so blinded as to come up with such a foolhardy idea.
Edna’s face turned even whiter. Those people meant business. The plan was as good as set in stone. Even if they didn’t put it into practice, they would never let her live, knowing what she now knew. With an ashen face, Edna clasped hard on the hem of her old, tattered rags. However, the idea that she could possibly break free from her maid’s life began to fill Edna’s head.
She, in turn, had heard many rumors about Eli. It was said that he had grown to become a demon who inflicted heavy corporal punishments without reserve on those whom he did not hold in favor. She was thoroughly terrified. But then again, at this point, she was a dead soul anyway, even if she stayed here. Might as well go to Eli and try her luck.
Right then, the echo of footsteps was heard near the door. Edna was breathing hard and forced her stiff body to move, but the bucket of firewood slipped away and fell from her grasp. As soon as the loud ‘thump’ rang out, the head maid Lotta suddenly opened the door and said, “Won’t you look at this? I knew you’d be here, all absent-minded, like this again. I should whip you senseless, but the eldest lady is summoning you, so hurry and get going.”
“How many times do I have to tell you not to talk back? Do as you are told! Oh, the smell. You really reek with a stink that makes a person’s nose rot. You’re so lazy despite being young, there should be some use to you.”
Edna’s face was sporting all kinds of bruises. Yesterday, she had another bout of tussle with Gilbert, the Knights’ Head in the castle, in order to protect her chastity as if she were the daughter of some aristocrat. She didn’t even bat an eye despite being beaten bloody to the ground. Lotta was very displeased with Edna’s haughtiness. She didn’t like her clumsy labor akin to that of a person who had never worked a day in her life, nor her stupid look resulting from her unfocused self.
Edna picked up the fallen firewood piece by piece and went to Anna’s room.
Leaning against the window, Anna frowned at Edna as she entered with her head bowed. “Do you bathe at all? The nasty smell is so pungent despite you standing over there. My nose feels like it’s going to rot.”
“Whatever. I should have you bathe first before teaching you. I can’t stay in the same room as you for the life of me because of the stink. Lotta! Lotta! Hurry inside.”
Lotta soon entered as if she had been waiting outside, and right after, Anna pointed her chin toward Edna and coldly uttered. “Take her out and have her wash with hot water first.”
“Yes? You want me to make her take a bath? Then we can just get water from the pond…”
“You think her filth will come off if you do it like that? Heat up the water, wash her thoroughly until her skin is about to peel, then bring her back.”
The head maid Lotta fixed Edna with a piercing sideways glare and dragged her out violently by the arm. She was curious as to why Anna suddenly instructed her to wash Edna, but couldn’t figure out why no matter how hard she thought about it. What made it worse was the fact that she couldn’t even ask Anna about it. Reluctantly dragging Edna down, Lotta scrubbed her skin red until it was about to peel off with ice-cold water, thinking it an absurdity to let a mere maid have a sumptuous hot bath.
Edna gritted her teeth and endured the pain tearing at her skin. Her mind was gradually relaxing. The fact that they’d be sending her to Eli as they schemed was bulletproof. She was helpless against the reality that she had nowhere to go as well if she were to run away. But of course, she’d still be killed as soon as she was discovered to be an impostor; however, at least she wouldn’t have to starve for a few days until that time came.
Plus, she’d also be able to shed the fear of being violated, if only for a moment. She clenched her teeth tightly, thinking that this was a golden opportunity for her to escape from the constant hunger, flogging, and the looming threat of sexual assault she suffered through over the last 2 years.
Lotta was exhausted upon managing to wash Edna several times with cold water and, afterward, she thought her clean appearance to be appealing enough. Lotta grabbed Edna’s chin and turned her face from side to side. She couldn’t discern her eye color because they weren’t open all the way, but her concealed figure seemed very fine.
“I guess your body shape was what made the knights go crazy trying to embrace a foul-smelling child such as you. Men are so fickle indeed… Now, off with you.” Lotta said and shoved her old but clean clothes while spurting insults and smacked her on the back. Edna bit her lips and hurriedly got dressed.
As soon as she escaped out to the hall, she found herself face to face with Gilbert, the Head of the Knights, whose eyes narrowed like a snake’s upon seeing Edna fresh out of a bath and clad in clean clothing. Edna tried to quickly evade him and run into Anna’s room, but Gilbert caught her by her still wet hair as she was trying to sidestep him to get to the stairs and pulled her against his chest. A sharp shriek escaped Edna’s mouth in the wake of his assault.
Anna emerged right when he was moving his hand to grope Edna’s body with a treacherous smile plastered on his face. Seeing Edna being held by Gilbert in the hall, Anna snickered and coldly said, “Let her go, Gilbert.”
Gilbert looked at Anna for a moment with a displeased expression and she soon gave him an imperious look, followed by a sharp outburst. “What is it? Are you defying me? I told you to let her go!”
Edna took advantage of Gilbert’s loosened grip and quickly sprinted up the stairs to Anna’s side, following her into the room. Anna, having already changed into an outdoor outfit in preparation to leave the castle soon, looked at Edna and smiled contentedly.
However, when she saw the obvious bruise on Edna’s now clean face, she inquired in a cool tone, “What’s wrong with your face? Did you get hit again?”
Anna, too, was well aware of Edna’s obstinate determination not to let a man share her bed thanks to the maids’ prattling. She had also heard that Gilbert had been in hot pursuit for Edna over the past few days.
Anna looked disapprovingly at Edna and murmured to herself, “You sure don’t know how to take shortcuts in life. I can’t believe you let your face reach this pitiful state when it could’ve been avoided if you’d slept with him once. Well, what can I do? I can’t help but hope for the bruises to disappear within the week. Come on, let’s go. Hurry and pick up my luggage.”
Anna had packed her bags while Edna was taking a bath. Rumors would definitely spread if she stayed and taught Edna in the castle. Therefore, her plan was to lay low at the monastery while she taught Edna and then send her to Eli from there.
Getting help from the monastery was crucial in order to swap Anna and Edna. That was why Viscount William opened the door to his deeply hidden safe and filled his pockets with gold coins while sporting a stiff expression. The viscount, who prided himself on his quick, calculative nature, had no doubt that he would reopen the family path again through Anna just as long as he bore the risk at hand.
Having concluded all his preparations, Viscount William solemnly told the people of the castle that Anna would be heading to the monastery to clear her body and mind. Anna paid a warm farewell to the viscount couple while pretentiously weeping. Edna followed after the tearful Anna into the carriage. Jocelyn shed a fake sea of tears up until the carriage was way out of sight and William left in haste as if he could no longer withstand the pain of goodbye.
“She was that headstrong and yet, she eventually ended up leaving. To think that the calculative Lord had no idea that the late king would lose. But well, at least he gets to preserve both his lifeline and title by offering up his daughter. It’s a relief that Anna has her parents’ best interest at heart despite being so stubborn. We all narrowly missed getting kicked out of here.” Mumbled Lotta brazenly.
Then, another maid chimed in. “But why did she take Edna of all people with her? Didn’t Anna originally hate Edna? Why did she have to take that child when she had her starved and beaten at the slightest provocation?”
Hearing that, Lotta muttered maliciously, “Isn’t it obvious? She undoubtedly took her to torment her. She’s just a tool for her to vent her anger on. When I think of it that way, I do feel a little sorry for Edna, but it’s much better than us going. Miss Anna’s temper is no ordinary thing.”
Agreeing with Lotta, the maids respectively voiced their sympathy for Edna, who was taken as a scapegoat.
“She looks so fine despite everything, I wonder how she came to be so stupid. I can already imagine how much Edna will be whipped.”
“That’s that, but did you see the color of Edna’s eyes? It was an abstruse brown color that’s hard to put in words. I think it was mixed with a little bit of gold.”
“No way! To me, they just sound like rotten, cold eyes. They were an unfocused, somber black.”
“No, they’re not! They were golden when I saw them.”
As the maids started squabbling over Edna’s eye color, Lotta immediately cut their conversation short. “It’s noisy. What does the color of Edna’s eyeballs matter when she’s already gone? Come on, let’s go get dinner ready instead. Miss Anna is so fickle that we never know when she might decide not to marry again, so some of you should start with cleaning up her room first. If the lord sees you like this, he’ll have you flogged at once.”
Disgruntled, the squabbling maids scattered at Lotta’s rebuke and returned to their work. As Lotta said, Viscount William was a man who put whip before thought upon seeing the maids engaged in such chatter.
Lotta was suddenly reminded that she bathed Edna earlier. It was surprising that no one in the castle had seen Edna properly to the point that the maids went as far as to have a dispute over the color of Edna’s eyes. She was always hiding well under shabby, oversized clothes so, naturally, no one knew how good her body shape was. Maybe she, too, wouldn’t have known had she not bathed Edna today.
She had a fleeting moment of wondering why Edna had not washed often. Edna couldn’t have done it purposefully as a means to protect herself because her brain wasn’t possibly capable of such a complex thought. Be that as it may, she would be able to sleep soundly for the time being in the absence of Edna’s gruesome sounds of punching and screeching.