If anyone asked if I was hurting, I would not know how to answer them. Perhaps I was hurting from the words of other people like how I was in my previous life. However, this pain I felt had become more cumbersome and I was getting used to it. Come to think of it, it was similar to how I was getting used to death.
“Ashley. When you get back, bring people over to your side. Even if it’s only one person.”
Oh my, who told me that again? In a moment of confusion, I pointed at my temple. Now that I thought about it again, I realised I was not the only child here.
“One day, you’ll have to introduce me to your friend.”
I did not know who told me that but I think that person was right.
I mumbled. I needed someone by my side if I were to face someone who could bite me like a dhole.
“The work I need to do increases as times go on…”
I smiled faintly. I shifted my gaze towards a white envelope and a letter with words written neatly atop it.
It was a letter from Amor.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. But I know that whatever it is, I’ll have to listen to it.”
Amor’s whispers sounded like the rustling of leaves in the wind. Now that I paid closer attention, I realised that the stamp he had pasted on the letter was bright yellow green like that of a fresh sprout. It looked just like his eyes at a certain angle. Would his eyes be that bright again if he were to stand under the bright sun?
“Alright. I’ll do you a favour.”
From now on, he would be of great help to me.
“This headdress looks old right?”
“… Of course it’s old. Where on earth did you get these leaves carved? Even if you were to throw this into a corner of some antique shop in the Empire, it wouldn’t sell. It’d be more useful to throw this away to the dogs.”
When Rebecca came, the drawing room as well as the other rooms in the mansion visibly brightened.
“It’ll be a waste to throw it to the dogs. Can’t I just keep it?”
I was a little dull when it came to recognising colours and patterns but even I could tell that the headdress looked more polished than before. The room that Rebecca herself decorated was as colourful as a freshly bloomed flower. But it did not feel very luxurious.
‘Isn’t Rebecca just wasting her talents in the wrong place?’
I looked at her only to see her looking at me disapprovingly. I then spoke.
“Uhm, do I have to throw it away? I cherish it because my brother gave it to me as a gift two years ago.”
“Two years? Amadema. Please throw it away, now.”
Rebecca twisted her face.
To be honest, it would have made more sense if I was left feeling bitter after being looked upon like that. But being looked upon by someone as beautiful as her could only be refreshing. I held my chin and tilted my head slightly.
Life had gone on like this since that day. And I had been intrigued by it all as if I was watching someone else go through what I was supposed to be.
Her dress was beautiful yet again today. Perhaps it was because of the bustle or the navy blue colour of her dress but it matched Rebecca’s gorgeous appearance very well.
“What on earth did you even learn to say that, mistress?”
She had the ability to hide her rude demands in the elegant way she spoke and pretended that whatever she said was alright.
“This and that.”
I was supposed to be humiliated but I just blinked at her as usual which made her furrow her forehead. Having adapted to her in a few days, I knew that she was holding back a sigh that was threatening to be let out.
“That answer had revealed the foundation to all your ways. That alone is an amazing feat.”
I acted as naive to Rebecca as I acted moronic to Castor so in my presence, her arrogance only grew day by day.
‘If I really didn’t know that the lady of the Duchy was this arrogant, would I have let her pass?’
I was sure that Rebeeca had heard about me from her mother. She must have judged me herself afterwards.
“No other woman in the Imperial Family is as ignorant as you.”
She would often heavily compare me with the list of women she knew from the Imperial Family. Sometimes she would deem me as an ‘uneducated princess’ through her eyes though she did not think I would not notice.
“Madam Auresia was such a wonderful woman.”
At the end of her speech, she brought up Auresia as if to say that my lack of care in my education was due to my mother. It did not hurt me personally but was it not cheating to bring up my mother?
That was overdoing it.
“Princess, if you continue being naive like this, I’m sure all the dumb boys around you will fall for you.”
She seemed to have thought a lot about teaching me but she was just showing off the dissatisfaction and contempt she had for me from her first glance. Her tone was gentle but sour.
For two weeks this was what my conversations with her had been.
Rebecca lifted the ends of her lips and smiled cheerfully.
“You know how people say they want to marry someone smart. I don’t agree.”
Rebecca’s face contorted. She then pressed on the tip of her temple and closed her eyes before opening them again.
“I made a slip of tongue. I mean, you seemed to have overlooked it.”
She gave me a look of contempt as if she was staring at something trivial.
“Being sarcastic only requires minimal tact and smarts.”
The way she looked at me reminded me of how my senior at work had looked at me every time I had to work. How should I answer her?
Disregarding how Rebecca’s eyebrows were twitching, I pulled at my clothes from place to place.
“Rebecca, instead of talking about such difficult things today, let’s go on a walk.”
“Our back garden is very very beautiful.”
Rebecca followed along as if I had not just won. Walking along the small trail, her face began to gradually change.
“Oh my word.”
If a face could crack open, her face would have been making a lot of noise right now.
“Such a place existed?”
There were many flowers in this garden. Of course, there were also many large trees like cypresses and platanuses. Violets, brush flowers, lilies and grape flowers could be seen decorating the flower beds. Rebecca looked surprised by the back garden.
In this world, gardens were oases filled with pieces of art like scenic trails, small mazes, statues and fountains.
High class aristocratic women, especially, liked to decorate their gardens beautifully. They would gain fame by showing the most luxurious appearances in the eyes of others. A wife could be said to be honouring her family through such a method.
For me to receive Rebecca’s favour, I would first have to show her something pleasant to the eyes. The problem was her eyes. Rebecca’s aesthetic standard was too high.
I had already shown her every corner of the old palace and the accessories my birth mother had left me were also not her cup of tea. I was not familiar with her favorites poems and songs so all I had left was this garden.
And I had a prince that could compare with no other when it came to plants.
“Is that your request? Well, it is possible. Since I’m the Templar of the Earth and its plants.”
I admitted that having him was like having a cheat key. Anyway, it should be fine as long as she was satisfied. There was nothing I was unwilling to do to live.
‘I think she likes it?’
The plants had been arranged harmoniously and the small maze that had only been a bare skeleton was now brimming with leaves. It was an amazing garden.
“… Did the Princess do this?”
Under the warm afternoon sun, the girl stood frozen as if she had been struck in place by a nail.
“Yeah. Do you like it?”
Actually, I was surprised too. I did ask Amor to help but I did not know he would make it look this good. Amor was for sure a great man for service.
“… It’s spectacular.”
Rebecca’s expression softened a little. She then asked me stiffly after fixing her expression.
“Why are you cutting the flowers?”
I smiled with flowers in my hand.
“Isn’t this place pretty?”
“Yes, it’s beautiful.”
I felt as if I was in a luxurious department store with my lover. I wanted to say something like that at least once.
“Should I give you everything?”
“… You’re giving me everything? For what?”
“Everything from here to there.”
Ah, I just spoke a famous line.
There might have been many ways I could be liked or favoured but beauty and materialistic wants are the best ways to get her approval. When I told Rebecca I could decorate the back garden myself, her face had darkened. But the garden Amor created seemed to please her very much.
“I like Rebecca. So I believe that Rebecca will cherish this place as much as I do.”
Actually, this garden was not that precious to me. Other than its people, nothing else in this palace was precious to me.
It was a big palace but everything was useless. I had seen this palace lit in flames and I had seen its walls stained in blood. Although these characters were not mentioned anywhere, I had managed to see all of them perish before in this world and I had given up on my greed. And sometimes, my desire to live.
All that was left was the people. Even now, there were people who loved me. And there is nothing more precious to me in that palace. With such complicated emotions, I looked at Rebecca.
“It’s my pleasure. I shall accept gratefully.”
“There will be nothing that falls short of your expectation. I shall make sure to elevate it to be the most beautiful garden.”
I smiled. It was too early to be surprised. I had not finished showing what I had prepared yet.
“I’m glad that my lady-in-waiting is the one saying such words.”
“Do you really think so?”
I wanted her and I would never allow Castor to have her. No matter how evil she was, she had not killed anyone yet, right? And she never killed me. Unlike Castor.
So I would get her first. I was going to take her away from Castor thought the one sweet future that she had dreamt of before would not be gone. It would be better than the miserable end she would receive as she died in the hands of someone she loved.
Dying was too easy.
I picked one of the most beautifully bloomed flowers in the flower bed. Then I handed them to her.
“In the name of Flora, the Goddess of Flowers, I shall give these to you.”
The act of exchanging flowers between fellow women in this world signified trust. Rebecca frowned slightly. She knew what I had in hand were not just flowers.
“Rebecca. You may address me as Ashley comfortably.”
I allowed her to call me by a name no one else could. The female lead would soon appear and completely woo Castor.
As I erased my thoughts, I stared at Rebecca.
If Rebecca’s arrogance had stemmed from the Duke’s love preventing her from being scolded even a single time as a child, her viciousness had stemmed from her miserable one-sided crush. At least that was what I guessed.
In fact, Rebecca might have been left alone and felt lonely because of her busy parents. Finally, the first person who had ever shown her affection was Castor. Then, if I reached out to her first when she had not known about love yet, would I be able to imprint myself in that white field of snow?