Chapter 73 – In the Eye of the Beholder
It was late in the night. And Isabel lay thinking about the extraordinary walk she had shared with Agares in the garden at the Imperial Palace. Still, she liked walking with him at the Grand Duchy the most. She still could not believe that she had stayed at his mansion and taken a walk with him in the garden. Everything was like a dream. She anticipated meeting him tomorrow, but then realized she would only be able to meet him after a week.
* * *
“Will I… see you again tomorrow?”
It was the most courageous thing Isabel had ever done in her life. She just hoped that she did not look awkward while saying it. She stared at the gravel, unable to raise her head as she awaited his answer. Isabel’s heart fell at the answer she received after a brief silence.
She was going to be rejected. Was he already tired of her? No. Among his previous lovers, she would now hold the record of being with him the longest. Isabel forced herself to laugh, trying not to let the tears escape. “Ah, so we won’t be meeting any—”
“No, you misunderstand. That’s not what I meant. To tell you the truth, I promised to help my brother.”
His brother? His brother… “Are you talking about His Majesty the Emperor?”
“Yes, that’s right. I promised to help him, so I imagine I will be busy for about a week.”
“Ah, is that so.”
“I think I will have some free time after a week. Would that be alright with you, Isabel?”
Her heart fluttered hearing him call her by her name. She could not believe it. “Yes. Of course. It is alright with me.”
“Let’s go to the lake together next time.”
“Yes, there is a lake in the forest not far from the capital. It is a part of the Imperial Estate, so not just anyone can enter, but it will be fine.”
“Can I really go?”
“Of course, you can. That’s why I’m inviting you.”
“Then please bring me there.”
A lake, huh? How unexpected. She felt like they were going on actual dates. It was impossible, of course, but she could not restrain her excitement even as she warned herself not to read too much into the situation…
“It’s a bit far since we need to go outside the capital, but I will make sure you’re not back too late.”
* * *
Now that she thought about it, they were meeting a little too often these days. She was relieved that their relationship did not come to an end.
Isabel got out of her bed and approached the table. She rummaged through the drawers for matches and lit a candle. It was midnight, and all the employees of the mansion were fast asleep. The baron’s family disliked it if Isabel turned on the lights late at night, so she was forced to endure the darkness even if she was unable to fall asleep.
She crouched and dragged out the box she had hidden under the bed. She carefully opened it. It contained all the gifts he had given her. The jewels looked beautiful, even under the dim light of the candle. Despite being able to touch them and see them with her own eyes, Isabel could not wrap her head around reality. She really met him? Talked to him? Kissed him? All those moments seemed like a far-off fantasy now.
The number of jewels created a small pile inside the box. What did it mean? Perhaps, nothing. It might just be her wanting to attach a meaning to it. Because he was special to her. That’s all. He probably thought nothing of it. Still, as she gazed at the sparkling jewels, she wanted to give them a meaning. Something. Anything. She wanted to convince herself that the jewels carried a tiny bit of his feelings for her.
It was strange. Why did her heart ache so much? Would it have been better if they had not met at all? If so, would she be able to avoid this sorrow? Still, her love for him granted her an insurmountable amount of happiness. But she had also come to experience more heartache and suffering than anything else she had been through in her entire life.
He had not abandoned her yet. But that day was sure to come. If he ever got tired of her, the fact that everything was all over would probably echo in her head. However, Isabel was doubtful whether she could turn a blind eye to the reality that the man would one day be a stranger to her once more.
Isabel spotted a droplet of water sliding down one of the jewels. She quickly realized that she was crying.
* * *
Isabel’s eyes opened to a still deep blue sky. The sun had not risen yet. Her room was devoid of those thick, velvet curtains that the others possessed, so each morning, she woke up at the first sign of morning. She laughed bitterly. She could not even see him today, so why did she have to wake up early? Only three days had passed by. Time was running so slowly. Isabel quietly sat by the window, blankly staring outside until the sun rose up. Soon, someone knocked on her door. The bath and breakfast were ready.
Isabel sat on her bed, feeling empty. She had only dined with him a few times, but now she could not resist wanting to eat with someone during her meals. She was not a part of the family. She could not eat with the rest of the family down in the main dining hall.
Like always, her breakfast was bread, salad, and soup. But today was rare; she was also served fish. She finished the salad, then tore a piece of the bread to dip it in the soup. She scoffed at herself. She was fine with this meal before, but now she was surprised at how awful the meal was, partly because of the taste and partly because of the loneliness enveloping her.
Agares could plunge her into sorrow or lift her into ecstasy.
Isabel cut the boneless fish with her knife and put it in her mouth. She suddenly dropped the knife and fork and covered her mouth, “Urgh.” She threw the window open and leaned over it, overwhelmed with nausea. She did not throw up, but her stomach was still upset. She called someone over to clear the plates.
As the servant walked out with the tray, Isabel heard her say, “Wow. We served her fish that even we aren’t allowed to eat, but look at this. She didn’t touch it at all. Is she protesting or something?”
“I agree. This is why everyone hates her.”
The words floated in through the small gap between the open door. “She should behave properly. She’s an illegitimate child, and she still dares to behave like that. What, because she’s technically still a noble? Hilarious.”
“Yeah, yeah. Ah, I’m so annoyed.”
Isabel pulled out a chair to sit in front of the window, feeling ill. She desperately wanted to take a walk. But her family did not want her walking around the garden during the daytime. They thought it was her way of bragging. Fortunately, the whole family was out for the day. So Isabel decided to leave her room and go to the garden after careful consideration.