Chapter 4 - The Next Morning
“Don’t tell me you’re only returning home now?”
The bitter words came from the baron’s wife. This woman, however, was not Isabel’s mother. Isabel, in actuality, was the baron’s illegitimate child. No matter how much the nobility allowed and partook in debauchery after marriage, illegitimate children were still considered scandalous and should not even exist in their eyes. Debauchery was permitted, but the honor of the nobility was not to be tainted.
Everything had to be done in secret. However, as the name and honor of the household were spoiled by the existence of an illegitimate child, the baron was the one who bore the most consequences. Isabel had been wrong to think that she would be safe here after she arrived. She should have continued to be careful until the moment she entered her room.
She, an unmarried lady, had slept with a man, and this act likely precluded her from being able to find a partner now. No, actually, she couldn’t marry anyone in the first place. Who would want to marry a baron’s illegitimate daughter, anyway? Isabel was well aware of this fact, so she reasoned that no matter what the future might have held, she wanted to give her body to him at least once.
That dream—the dream that she thought could never become reality—actually came true.
It had hurt physically, but she was content and happy with the fact that they had even been united for one night. If the truth that she had slept with the Grand Duke before she could even be married was ever revealed, she would be kicked out of the estate at once. Nonetheless, she did not regret it.
“I-I went out for a little walk…”
“Do you take me for an idiot? A walk? In that outfit?”
Isabel looked down at her body. She had forgotten about that detail. Isabel’s clothes were very modest and not flashy, to begin with, but even by those standards, her current gown was not appropriate to be worn at home. Her dress was definitely a banquet dress. She had lied and said she went on a walk because she had been afraid of the woman’s criticism, but her efforts turned out to be futile since she was caught.
“The dress is all wrinkled on top of that. Where are your manners?”
“Do you not know shame? A grown maiden such as yourself staying out all night and only coming in at dawn? You embarrass me so much I can’t bear to live anymore.”
“Gosh, it isn’t because of some unspeakable, impure affair, is it?”
Isabel’s face flushed scarlet. Though she shook her head, she thought about how her secret had been revealed. She felt nauseous, her heart stopped, and she blushed heavily. But Ghyria, the baroness, was already used to Isabel’s timid and cowardly personality, and let her go without interrogating her much further. She had only wanted to humiliate Isabel who she thought of as a slow-witted, lowly wench.
Isabel’s status as an illegitimate child degraded the baroness’s dignity, especially since Isabel lived in her home under the same roof as her legitimate family. To the baroness, she was nothing more than trash. The sight of Isabel offended her terribly. She also despised her gloomy and timid nature. In short, Ghyria hated Isabel’s existence. Like every married noblewoman, she blamed the product of her husband’s affairs instead of her husband himself.
“I don’t even want to see you. Go in quickly and get out of my sight.”
Isabel choked back tears at Ghyria’s harsh words and scurried to her room, which was located in the furthest corner of the lowest floor in the mansion. Nobles usually occupied the rooms on the highest floor of their residence. Their noble pride—no, conceit—was the reason why they made the highest floors their personal chambers instead of the lower ones.
Yet, not only was Isabel’s room on the first floor, but it was also the last room in the most remote corner of that floor. Isabel, however, was grateful that they even gave her a room and entered the aforementioned chamber.
The bedding was cleaned regularly by the servants, but the sheets were old and worn. It was more fitting to call the dark room a desolate corner than the room of a young lady. Isabel didn’t have the energy to take off her dress and carelessly crawled into bed. She then closed her eyes, curled up, and let sleep consume her.
* * *
Agares furrowed his brows in irritation at the hand shaking his body. He shrugged off the hand but it stayed tenaciously and refused to let go. There were only a few people who could afford to wake him, the empire’s one and only Grand Duke, in such a discourteous manner. At the top of the list was a man named Cien, who had been taking care of the Grand Duke since he was a child. He had wanted to punish his impudent vassal right then and there, but he had a splitting headache and couldn’t open his eyes.
An ordinary secretary would have left by now, but Cien hardly even budged.
“Your Highness! Your Highness! Please wake up!”
“Ah, my head hurts. Don’t shake me. I’m going to die.”
Was he hallucinating, or did Cien shake him even more violently upon hearing news of his headache?
“Do you know how hard I’ve looked for you, Your Highness?! I feel like my legs are going to fall off my body after turning this mansion upside down looking for you!”
“I told you to go away.”
“What were you doing all night that has left you feeling like you’re going to die? Or, are you running out of stamina, now, Your Highness?”
Agares heard words that he could not ignore even with his fatal, splitting headache. Wait, had he heard that right? Was Cien doubting his stamina now? The Grand Duke finally opened his eyes in annoyance in response to the impertinent words, an offended look crossing his face. As he got up in his disheveled state, he stared at the brightly smiling Cien with a frown.
“Please speak, Your Highness,” Cien replied smoothly, his face saying, “I am your faithful servant.”
“What did you just say?”
“You finally opened your eyes. You’re beautiful today as always. You look handsome.”
Was he doing this on purpose, or did he misspeak? Agares really did not like being called beautiful, truth be told.
“Cut the bullshit. Not that, what else did you say? Say it again.”
“Gosh, what are you saying? Others would be so scared if they heard that.”
“I told you to cut the bullshit.”
“What are you talking about, Your Highness? I didn’t say anything. Did you mishear something while you were half-asleep? First, let’s calm down your lower parts, wash up, and return to the grand ducal residence.”
Agares raised his hand, wanting to teach the cheeky bastard a lesson, but he restrained himself.
“Before that, some water.”
His head hurt and his neck was locked. Overall, he was a wreck. The only thing that had gone away was the drowsiness in his body. As soon as Agares reached out his hand, Cien handed him a glass of water as if he had already read his mind and prepared it in advance. He assessed his attendant as he drank the iced water. If he had not been as perceptive as he was, Agares would have thrown him out early on. Now that he had had some water to drink, he was able to sober up slightly. His stiff neck felt much better too.
“Cien,” Agares called as he swept his long, blond hair back.
Shiny locks flowed down his back and cheeks like a waterfall. Cien, who had seen him his whole life, admired Agares’ beauty. He was undeniably good-looking.
“At your command, Your Highness.”
“Was anyone here when you came in?”
“There was no one, Your Highness.”
“You’re sure you didn’t see anybody?”
“Yes. No one. Speaking of, that’s quite odd. Usually, the other party would be sleeping in this bed, and Your Highness would have gone back, but this time you’re lying here and the lady you were with is gone.”
He had slept with many women before, but he had never stayed with a woman until the next morning. Not only that, this was the first time he had not woken up as the woman left his arms. It would seem that he had taken quite the despicable drug last night. Otherwise, his body would have neutralized it to some extent during the evening since it was already so familiar with drugs and poison.
He really could not remember anything in particular from last night. He only remembered that the woman he had embraced last night had a very sweet taste. The skin that had been under his tongue was best described as soft, pliable, and tender. Her sweet fragrance seemed to linger in his nose, and it didn’t seem like the scent was from her perfume. Nights where he was satisfied were rare. He had lost himself in the chaos of the night.
The problem was that he couldn’t remember her face, probably because the drugs in his system had impaired his ability to do so. However, he vividly remembered her suppressed moans and her sweet body. Perhaps he had never managed to see her face properly because she had been on top of him the entire time. He really should have at least tried to see her face. The memory of her body and the melodious moans that continuously escaped her lips were still fresh in his mind, but no matter how much he tried to recall, no face came to mind.
Agares raised his finger, eyes on the long strand of hair wrapped around it. His own hair was long, but he was blond, so it could not have been his. The dark hair appeared both blue and black. When more light reflected against it, the strands turned a vague, bluish-purple.
‘What a pretty hair color.’
Who could this Cinderella, who ran away without even leaving a shoe, be? Agares smiled devilishly. Cien subconsciously shuddered at Agares’ aggressive grin.
* * *
His competent secretary brought Agares a new suit. Cien sang praises of admiration to his master as he watched Agares leisurely wash his body and change into the suit he had prepared.
“Beaut—err…suave, Your Highness.”
‘He did that on purpose.’
Agares stared at him coldly but Cien maintained his usual expression. Though it had been an intentional compliment, it was indeed true that the Grand Duke could pull off anything he wore.
Other nobles would not have tolerated Cien’s impertinence, but Agares hardly minded it. More important than anything was the fact that, of all the other secretaries, Cien was the most attuned to Agares’ needs.
“Are we leaving for the grand duchy now?”
“No. Let’s go to the Imperial Palace.”
As their carriage headed towards the palace instead of the Grand Duke’s residence, Cien regarded Agares as he sat in the front seat. He slowly opened his eyes and leaned against the fluffy seat.
“What are you going to do at the Imperial Palace?” Cien asked.
“Erm, I’m going to see Imperial Brother,” Agares replied drowsily.
“What are you going to see His Majesty for?”
“Why are you so interested? Are you interested in me?”
Cien’s face scrunched up at Agares’ words.
“Please refrain from uttering such a terrible thing, even if it’s a joke. I don’t hold the slightest affection for you, let alone interest.”
“How impudent. I’ll fire you.”
Agares didn’t answer him and instead chuckled. Then, he closed his eyes as if he were irritated. Cien did not continue their conversation any longer. He did not open his mouth until the carriage passed through the gates of the Imperial Palace and reached the central palace where the Emperor’s office was located. Cien kept guard without disturbing his master’s rest and only woke him up after the carriage came to a stop.