‘He tricked me.’
Irina bit her lips.
Not too long ago, she had rushed to the duke’s study in the estate’s library at the first word that she could finally start work. And what she discovered there was that…
She had been thoroughly deceived.
“This is the Viscountess of Alphington and she will stay in the estate from henceforth to teach you.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Irina Leonid. I am Wendell Alphington and I will be teaching you how to write, basic liberal arts and etiquette.”
“… I-it’s nice to meet you?”
She was so startled that her voice went up a few octaves.
Teach? So, he was not giving her work to do but wanted her to study instead?
Until that moment, Irina had never imagined herself anywhere close to being taught anything.
“I have heard of your circumstances from the duke. You will have much to learn. So, your schedule might be more packed than most.”
“The lessons might get tough but please don’t allow yourself to fall behind and try your hardest to catch up. I believe you are more than capable of that, my lady.”
No, I am not.
Swallowing the answer she could not give down her throat, Irina shot desperate glances at Rogan who had been standing beside her.
This was a prank, right?
There must have been a misunderstanding, right?
Reading her gaze, Rogan approached Irina before lowering his head and whispering softly into her ears.
“It is a student’s job to study.”
From that position, Irina raised her gaze and made eye contact.
“I kept my promise, Lady Leonid.”
Irina slammed her forehead into the desk she was sitting in front of.
The papers she had been using to practise her writing fluttered under the desk after she had already piled them neatly in the corner.
‘I’ve been studying every day since!’
Every morning she would wake up early to learn the Imperial language and in the afternoon, she was taught table manners.
Then, until it was time for dinner, she would practise her writing again and attend several lessons in etiquette.
‘I can’t believe I still have more classes after memorising all these letters…’
Why was there no end to studying when she was already working this hard?
‘The viscountess said that these classes are usually taught to young children.’
How were the children outside slums so full of life when they had to learn this every day?
Scrape, rubbing her throbbing forehead, Irina picked up the papers that had fallen on the ground and organised them neatly once again.
‘This isn’t what I wanted.’
What she had wanted was to quickly be of use to the duke and the others in the estate.
She wanted to do chores like cleaning, laundry or cooking.
‘This was not what I expected. Not at all,’
After gathering all the paper into a pile again, Irina sighed and sat back down on her seat.
Then, she picked up the quill once more.
To be honest, studying was hard.
Even though she knew the letters, it was hard learning them. And no matter how easy the viscountess made things sound in her lessons, she could never understand her.
And yet, she found it fun.
“That’s correct, my lady! You remember it to the tee!”
She was happy to be doing something.
“Irina Leonid. So, this is my name.”
“Yes, it is.”
“This is fascinating. It really is…”
When she wrote her name on paper for the first time, she had been so moved.
“I can read a book. I can read now!”
After being so used to feeling hopeless, she was utterly delighted that she could read.
She liked the fact that she could do something other than cleaning and doing the laundry.
‘I have to work harder.’
But she found herself getting greedy.
She wanted to learn a little more.
‘Though it is hard.’
Some tears fell down her cheek.
She found it most worth learning the official language of the Empire, the one she had always been using.
But the aristocrats used different words and phrases which she had trouble learning.
“… Lady Leonid?”
Immediately lifting her head at the voice, she found Viscountess Alphington looking at her while carrying a lantern.
“Oh dear, you were still here? It’s already so late into the night.”
Blinking, Irina turned her head and looked out the window.
The viscountess was right.
Before she noticed it, it was already dark outside.
Based on where the moon was in the sky, it must already be well past the time she should be in bed.
How did so much time pass?
She was certain the sun had only been setting moments ago.
“I noticed the room was still lit from the window so I merely dropped by to check.”
The viscountess blinked in shock.
“It is good to be studious but you shouldn’t be pushing your body like that. Lady Leonid.”
“I hadn’t noticed how much time had passed.”
Irina’s hands paused mid-motion as they busied themselves to organise the desk.
The viscountess, who was helping her organise her desk as well, looked back into her eyes as though encouraging her to continue.
“Could you explain this to me once more? You taught me this today but I’m still unsure…”
“Ah, this part is confusing. No worries. These words do sound similar so there are still people who often mix the two up. Now, try pronouncing them like this.”
Irina mimicked the viscountess.
It definitely sounded the same as her attempts earlier.
But it was strange how it sounded as if she had gotten better now that she was practising with the viscountess.
‘I’ll have to keep practising before I forget.’
She tried practising the words a few more times.
She could hear the viscountess chuckling.
“If anything, it is good to see you being so diligent. But, my lady,”
Covering the text on the desk, Viscountess Alphington continued.
“As I mentioned earlier, you should not push yourself. When it is time to sleep, you need to sleep.”
Irina hesitated momentarily.
“I want to do what I can. Then, I can learn all these letters quickly.”
Although she found the official Imperial Language difficult.
Irina was the one overstaying her welcome.
And out of everything she was learning, Irina was the most used to speaking the Imperial language and was progressing in this subject the fastest.
“If I learn this quickly, it feels like it would become a little easier to learn the other subjects.”
Even at that moment, she could barely read a few words.
She had no choice but to depend on all of the viscountess’ teachings during her lessons.
Furthermore, she struggled whenever she revised after class.
“So, I just wanted to work a little harder.”
Looking touched, the Viscountess of Alphington stared at Irina.
“But I cannot allow you to continue.”
Irina could not put up a struggle as her books were taken away from her.
Irina’s shoulders dropped sullenly.
“Now, shall we head back? I shall escort you to your room, my lady.”
This meant that she would not let her out of her sight until she saw Irina laying on her bed for herself.
Helplessly, Irina nodded her head and left the duke’s study.
The duke’s study, which Irina had been borrowing for a while for her lessons, was situated in the library while Irina’s room was all the way in the eastern wing of the estate.
The viscountess and Irina walked slowly down the long hallway.
Sparsely placed lanterns and the moonlight streaming into the hallway lit their path.
“Excuse me, Madam Alphington.”
“Could I ask you one more question?”
“Of course. What more words do you have difficulties pronouncing”
“No, this has nothing to do with our lessons.”
Hesitating for a while, Irina then spoke.
“What do you think happiness is, madam?”
Viscountess Alphington stopped in her tracks before staring at Irina.
Irina nodded under her questioning gaze as though to affirm that she had heard nothing wrong.
“That is a very… profound question.”
Hm, the viscountess tilted her head to the side.
Her pale golden hair, that looked as if it had been drained of colour, fluttered.
“Well… it is hard to pinpoint an exact answer. In any case, I think everyone has their own interpretation of what happiness is.”
“Yes, shall I give you an example? I, personally, do not like sweet foods. So, if someone were to give me something like candy, I wouldn’t be that pleased.”
Listening intently to Viscountess Alphington, Irina nodded.
“But, you like sweet things, don’t you, my lady?”
Hadn’t she almost gotten in trouble for ignoring the table manners she had been taught and trying to eat the sweet desserts first?
Irina nodded once again.
However, unlike before, her cheeks were now slightly flushed.
“So, if someone were to give you candy as a present, you would be pleased, my lady. I believe happiness to be something similar.”
She understood what she meant.
But she was still confused.
“If that’s the case, madam. Might I ask what was the moment you felt the happiest?”
“Of course you can. I was the happiest when…”
Her words trailed off as though she was reminiscing before she smiled brightly.
“No matter how I think about it, it would probably be the moment I first met my husband and the moment I first saw my daughter.”
A pale flush coloured the viscountess’ cheeks.
“When I had been courting my husband, my heart was always set aflutter. I believe that to be happiness as well.”
The viscountess adjusted the flowing shawl around her shoulders before continuing in whispers.
“And when I held my daughter in my arms for the first time, I felt an overwhelming amount of happiness.”
When she placed herself in the viscountess’ shoes, she thought she would feel the same,
Meeting the one you love and having a family with them.
It certainly seemed to be happiness.
Couldn’t she smile at the mere thought of it?
“Thank you, madam. Your explanation helped.”
“Hoho, really? I was merely sharing my personal experiences. But why are you asking, my lady?”
The duke told me that I could remain in this mansion till I was happy.
But I do not know when that will be.
I had been pondering about it for a long time but I could not arrive at an answer which is why I asked.
‘… I can’t just tell her that.’
“Ah, I was only curious.”
As if finding her answer lacking, the viscountess frowned.
However, she did not probe further. As though she understood, she merely nodded.
“We have arrived.”
They had finally arrived in front of Irina’s room.
Viscountess Alphington helped her open the door to her room and watched over her as Irina laid in her bed.
“Good night, my lady. You cannot be late for class tomorrow, understand?”
“Yes, good night to you too, madam.”
Nodding, the viscountess tried to shut the door behind her before turning her head towards Irina.
“Don’t study anymore today and just go to sleep. Alright?”
The door clicked shut.
Irina pressed her eyes shut for a moment but as soon as the sound of her footsteps faded, she immediately got out of bed.
‘Has she left?’
Psst, she lit the candle next to her bed.
This time, she did not forget to carefully close the curtains to prevent light from seeping through the window.
‘I just need to work a little more to finish my agenda for today.’
Taking out another textbook which she had hidden in the drawers, Irina settled into a chair.
“So, this is Dobedoque… Hm, does it mean foolish?”
The sound of Irina flipping through the textbook filled the room illuminated by soft candlelight.