Chapter 3 - Welcome, Anna
The carriage, which covered a long distance, stopped at a monastery deep into the mountains. Head bowed down, Edna silently listened to Anna.
“Understood? If you don’t comprehend even after I put it this simply, then you’re a full-fledged moron. It goes without saying that, no matter what you do, you won’t be able to imitate my noble air, but if you don’t learn properly, I’ll have you whipped so rack your brains to learn it all, got it? It’s an opportunity for you too, you know? You’ll never be born a noble like me even if you reincarnate, so when will you come by this luxury again?” Satisfied with her words, Anna gave a cold, jeering smile. Edna nodded meekly, an indication that she understood.
“That’s right, I’m offering you a chance, so you have to learn with all your might. Bear in mind that I’ll catch and sell you off to a brothel should you pull off something stupid like running away!” With that terrifying threat, Anna turned her gaze toward the window. “Now then, Edna. It’s time for us to do this together.”
Only then did Edna raise her head, swallowing dry saliva, and escort Anna out of the carriage.
* * *
Anna raised her cold blue eyes and shot them at Edna, who was seated at the table. Truly, it was of no use no matter how much she taught her. Anna’s already limited patience had reached rock bottom only two days after she came to the monastery. Assuming that she’d leave dressing up and styling her hair to a maid, Anna could not bring Edna to fix her pig-like habit of rushing head-first into her food.
“Why can’t you just quit it? What did I tell you? Eat slowly. How else are you going to use your fork and knife? Oh my word, you’re a maid alright… You’ll get caught at once if you go about your meal in that manner. What would become of you then? You’ll die right on the spot. Did you hear the rumors about Eli? He’s notorious for his cruelty. If you don’t want to die as soon as you reach him, try again slowly.” Anna roared, hitting Edna on the back of her hand with a whip.
Anna opened her eyes wide and glared at the terrified Edna whose shoulders hunched as Anna’s whip charged audibly through the air. Edna carefully picked up the meat on the plate with her fork and pushed it into her mouth. Although it was bland and tough, she took the opportunity and chewed the meat she hadn’t had in a long while, risking a quick glance at Anna’s face.
“Don’t even look at me like that. The daughter of a viscount never seeks approval from others.” Anna spat out coldly, standing next to Edna, staring at her head and chewing on her lip. The red at the end of her hair was truly hideous. The mere sight of what she had done to her head was appalling. She wanted to cut it all off, but couldn’t recklessly put scissors to use lest she ends up looking like a man.
Anna’s irritation had reached new heights. At first, she thought this to be a spectacular idea, yet, it turned out to be a harder feat to see through. Anna lowered her head with a livid expression on her face and stared at Edna, who was busy learning to use a knife and fork.
It was all due to Viscount William choosing the wrong side. She got needlessly caught in such a headache-inducing situation all thanks to William’s own failure to predict that Ducaine III would be defeated.
‘Should Eli ever catch on and tattle to the king, then I’m going to confess that I did it because father made me. What is there to hide? I can just tell the truth as it is.’ Anna thought to herself, stroking her beautifully flowing golden hair. This was a very instinctive thought for someone as selfish as her. Anna kept stroking her beautiful stretch of golden hair, this time thinking about Eli.
She only ever saw him once when she went to the capital city. The man stood tall at 190 centimeters and gave off the feeling of a blade, born and sharpened at the battlefield. She turned her head away as soon as his fierce, animalistic gaze met hers because his ruthless eyes were ones she never wanted to come across ever again, even though his face was quite handsome.
The thought that she wouldn’t have had to do this if he were a noble briefly crossed Anna’s mind. Remembering his appearance, which would’ve looked marvelous in bed, Anna let out a slightly regretful sigh, but then snapped back to her senses and murmured to herself, silently, ‘What use would a commoner’s good looks be? He’s a war-crazed bastard. Now that the war is over, his origins will be revealed to the bone. Tsk, Edna is good enough for such a man.’
Anna kept on thinking along those lines. The repercussions of this incident were impossible to predict currently since the plan to dupe both the king and his favorite duke had already been put into motion. She had to go to the capital city before this rumor spread completely. She was confident in her ability to capture Cayden’s heart if she did. The question was whether Edna would buy her enough time to allow her to go to the capital city.
That was why Anna was going out of her way to teach Edna. Anna, who was highly praised as the country’s most beautiful woman, was convinced that Cayden had decreed her as Eli’s political marriage partner because he had never seen her. Anna believed it her destiny to become the king’s woman and, consequently, hold the world in the palm of her hand.
Anna, in a voice sweeter than honey and with a devil’s smile, whispered to Edna, “Edna, I don’t expect much from you. But you must remember one unique thing, and that is what you should say if you ever get caught. Otherwise…”
Anna smiled and whispered closer to Edna’s ear. “He will completely peel off your skin and hang you by the window. He’s that kind of person. So if you want to live, then you had better make this work. You also want to live, don’t you?”
Edna held her breath at Anna’s chilling words and managed to nod her head in understanding.
“All right, Edna. Then let’s do it again from the beginning. I doubt you’ll be able to successfully imitate the dignity of a noblewoman in a week, but I will definitely make it happen at all cost. So listen carefully and follow after me. I am not going to spare any effort to help you extend your life even by a small increment. So don’t forget my kindness.”
Edna nodded to Anna’s sweet but sharp remark and inwardly evened her breath. The memory of running away from the fire in order to save her life passed through her mind like a flash. Edna bit her lips tightly with a mysterious golden stare.
Then she listened to Anna’s instruction and quietly thought, ‘I want to live. It doesn’t matter in what identity. And if possible, I will run away looking for my freedom. Until then, I’ll have to endure it somehow.’
* * *
Time passed quickly. The bruises on Edna’s face were slowly fading away. In contrast, Anna’s face was filled with unsightly boils, looking thoroughly sick thanks to the deliberately applied plaster.
Already, rumors were spreading outside the monastery that Anna had caught a terrible disease. The gold coins that Viscount William sprinkled showed their power.
Anna smiled faintly at Edna as she was mounting the carriage. Anna, glancing up and down at the taller girl who was dressed in a colorful wedding gown, spoke primly, “When would you ever get the chance to wear such luxurious clothes? Well, just be thankful that you got to try these on before you die.”
Anna lowered the translucent veil over Edna’s head to cover her face. It was time to go to Eli.
* * *
Having left the monastery, Edna breathed heavily as soon as she managed to discern her destination. She could not believe it. As soon as she knew where Eli’s land was, Edna’s heart began to beat wildly. The fact that her destination was Westfield, where she spent her childhood, excited Edna. But the sight of the carriage running through the vast land quickly calmed her excitement.
A land long since abandoned after being plagued by a long war. More than half of the dense forest was burned down, and she gradually noticed that it looked like a barren, uninhabited land. Edna’s face hardened as she pulled up the veil and looked out with golden-brown eyes. The fact that all this was due to the evildoings of the late king made her heart shatter. Edna shook her head in an attempt to shrug off the past.
‘I must forget. I must forget everything that’s happened. However, I must always remember that my current situation has already hit rock bottom.’ Mumbling inwardly to herself, Edna lowered the veil again. Her eyes reddened for a moment, but Edna refused to cry.
The carriage arrived at Eli’s castle late in the afternoon. Standing by the rampart, Eli’s eyes widened as he looked closely toward the cloud of dust which looked as faint as a haze from afar. Eli soon came to realize that it was the carriage carrying his bride.
“You’re here after all. I did say that a wife was nothing but a headache.” He murmured as the carriage drew closer and closer. Eli shook his head faintly as if he thought it cumbersome then eyed his surroundings with an apathetic expression. Noble Anna will certainly not even leave her carriage when she sees this land.
The land bestowed by Cayden was vast but barren. In the aftermath of the fierce civil war, nothing was going right. The castle seemed to be in danger of collapsing, and no one took care of the abandoned land, so it looked no different from the wilderness.
He had no intention of settling down anywhere, to begin with. But Cayden had asked him to. Not an order, but a request! After much consideration, he came here reluctantly to strengthen the victorious king’s hold on the throne following the civil war, and for his men who had wandered through the battlefield for many years, constantly facing death. But he didn’t mean to do anything for this land. Because the battlefield was his only place to be.
He didn’t approve of the marriage Cayden decreed. Marrying him to an aristocrat wouldn’t make him one, so why did he have to marry the viscount’s daughter? But he had no valid pretext to refuse.
Unlike other knights who grew their hair up to the nape of their necks, Eli kept his short. Under his thick eyebrows, his deep blue eyes pierced through the cloud of dust as he stood tall watching the carriage nearing a halt.
When she made no attempt to open the carriage door as if waiting for him, Eli begrudgingly walked down the rampart to greet the bride. When he went out of the gate, the carriage door finally opened and a woman fully dressed in a luxuriously embroidered white dress with a veil covering her face came within view.
Eli frowned with his arms crossed over his chest, noticing that Anna was unexpectedly tall. In fact, the dazzling beauty that was Anna came to be his wife due to a careless joke he made to Cayden, telling him that he’d consider having a wife if she were that pretty.
Anna stood still as if waiting for Eli to escort her. Eli reluctantly extended one hand and started walking in large strides as soon as her arm was linked in his, which made it hard for her to keep up with his pace.