Chapter 59 – Her Blatant Ignorance (1)
In the quiet study, the air stood still. Except for the ruffling of pages, there was nary a sound. There were only two people in the study, yet it was more suffocating than a crowded room full of clamour.
As he flicked through the pages of the ledger, every now and then, Ruth pressed the middle of his forehead with his forefinger as if trying to pin down his emotions. As he went through line after line, word after word, his thoughts dared not reflect on his face.
Nearby, a sullen Max stood still, like a child who had been reprimanded for wrongdoings. Her gaze was fixed on the ledger as well as if it held authoritarian power over her future. Every time a page turned, her heart paused. Every fleeting second, she’d steal a glimpse of the vacant visage before her, trying to gauge the other’s mood.
She could, however, glean nothing and could only go back to feeling more sullen.
After what felt like forever, his wordless audit had finally drawn to a close. The party in charge of the rising tension in the room, let out a deep sigh and roughly rubbed his face out of habit. Then, he turned to the only other person in the room, and without preamble, looked her straight in the eyes.
“I don’t know what to talk about first,” he said impassively.
Max, who was by now a bundle of nerves, felt like crawling into a hole. She had little courage to face what was to come.
“Are you sure you have all the purchase bills in here?” His face did not betray his thoughts even now.
“Y-yes! The b-bundle of p-papers there…”
He narrowed his eyes at the pile of parchment paper she was referring to, then closed the ledger with a smack that reverberated in the silent room. Max quivered ever so slightly.
“We can start tomorrow as it’s quite late already.” He solemnly suggested.
“Yo-you ca-can t-tell me no-now…” She had been on the edge for far too long, the sooner she was done with the better it would be. If she had to go through this for a minute longer, she was afraid of an imminent nervous breakdown. However…
“This ledger isn’t something that we can fix in a couple of days.”
Max immediately pursed her lips, silenced by the sharp words. What did she have to say? Ultimately, all she could do was quietly nod, burning in silent shame.
The next morning saw Max rushing to the library as soon as she woke up. She didn’t want to delay even a moment more than necessary to set right the ledger. Her entire night had been spent in jitters, the bags under the eyes serving as proof.
When he saw the dainty figure scurrying into the room, Ruth greeted her with a lazy, unimpressive yawn. He was sleeping in a corner, dressed in his usual, tattered apparel from before. It seemed like it took him great effort to straighten himself up, and the look he shot her all along was of someone who had been disturbed in the midst of something very important.
Max narrowed her eyes, clearly aware of what the gaze on her meant. She had snuck out of her room shortly after sunrise. Before leaving, she’d wiped her face with a wet towel, not wanting to bump into any servants looking unkempt. By the time she made it here, she was panting and a thin layer of sweat had made its way on her flushed face.
And was this man, living free and easy, silently accusing her of invading his privacy while she had spent the night on pins and needles? If anyone knew that he was the one Max feared, they would scoff it off calling it absurd.
“Let’s look at the purchase records first. We should cancel any unnecessary orders before it’s too late.”
Without wasting a moment, he pulled out a chair from the desk, made himself comfortable, and got straight to the point. Surprised by the sudden change in demeanor, Max tucked her uncombed, messy hair behind her ear in a bid to hide her unease and quietly took the seat opposite him.
She attempted to break the terse silence. “The me-merchant wi-wi-will be co-coming th-this af-af-afternoon. I can can-cancel a-any orders to-today.”
“Very well.” He simply answered.
He deftly organized the parchment papers by date and started to go through each of them in detail. As he looked through the records, she gripped onto her skirt nervously and waited with bated breath, not daring to utter a peep lest he is irked.
“Firstly,” he finally said, “20 lirams for a marble tile… you wrote it down incorrectly. A marble tile 1 cubet by 1 cubet for 20 derhams is not a ridiculously expensive price. No, it’s actually quite cheap.”
Just when Max sighed in relief, she discovered she had celebrated too soon. Ruth tapped the desk with his fingers and continued in the same detached tone.
“But I’m not certain if switching the floors of both the hall and banquet room into marble tiles is necessary. It’s not long since they’ve been changed into stone tiles,” he said and sighed. “I reckon there’s nothing we can do since construction has already begun. Nevertheless, Lord Calypse deserves this kind of luxury so it should be fine.”
“B-but they ha-haven’t sta-started wi-with the ha-hall so w-we can can-cancel…”
“That would be great, thank you.” He replied dryly and went onto the other sections.
“Everything else looks fine. Stair handrails, balcony banisters, windowsill, curtains and carpets, wall decorations, furniture, chandeliers and statues, fount… fountains?!”
His flat voice screeched when he reached the end of the list. Max flinched like someone had slapped her on the back. He whipped his head around and glared at her with narrow eyes, tacitly demanding an explanation. Unable to dare to look straight at him, she looked away and started spurting excuses.
“The me-merchant sa-said it’ll lo-look goo-good in th-the ga-garden…”
“Do you know how much money goes into maintaining a fountain? Drawing water is a huge construction in itself! And what’s more, it’s made of marbles and crystals? This bastard is trying to rip you off!”
At his angry cry, Max dropped her head. It looked like she’d shrank in size. No matter how pitiful she appeared, his caustic remarks didn’t meet their end.
“And where did the idea of changing every single window in the castle with high-quality glass come from? This is a kind of luxury the emperor during the Roem Dynasty would’ve had! Do you know how expensive glass is?”
“Cro-croix Castle has gla-glass win-windows…”
“That’s because it’s owned by the Croix family! Madam, your father is one of the richest people in all Seven Kingdoms!” He couldn’t believe she was comparing such polar opposites! If Lord Calypse was rich, then the Duke of Croix’s wealth could only be described as exorbitant.
Even the commoners were aware of this fact, how could his own daughter be oblivious?!