“Mm, I don’t know if this is right.”
As she had been fiddling with the handkerchief for a long time now, Grace barely made a satisfactory shape before she finally took a step back.
At that time, Lucas’ wandering hands just behind her back also naturally returned to their place.
The fortunate thing was this—that Grace didn’t seem to notice anything.
The unfortunate thing, on the other hand, was this—that everyone else in this place except Grace saw what just happened.
He heard someone’s restrained laughter from somewhere.
And he could tell who it was without looking.
Jaime was the one laughing right now.
Careful not to let Grace notice, Lucas secretly turned his head and glared at Jaime.
In turn, Jaime quickly lowered his head and hid the mirth on his face.
But he couldn’t hide his trembling shoulders.
“Umm, I’m not sure if you’ll like it.”
“Like… Ahem, ahem. I like it very much.”
“That’s a relief.”
Unaware of what just happened around her, Grace smiled brightly.
Faced with her smile, Lucas felt deeply guilty.
‘For me to be such an obscene bastard…’
Indeed, Grace O’Ellin continued to make Lucas discover all sorts of sides to him that he didn’t even know existed.
For quite a while after that, Lucas tried to get himself together. Then he spoke again in a polite, formal manner.
“I… I will keep it well, Grace.”
“Yes? Ah, yes.”
“Then, shall we begin our meal now?”
“I’m truly looking forward to it.”
With a pure, innocent expression on her face, Grace smiled at him.
* * *
Their dinner went smoothly.
There was even a music box at one side, and no one knew when it had been taken out.
A delicate melody, as gentle as the sound of raindrops, constantly played in the background.
Champagne mixed with crème de cassis was served as their aperitif, and it was mild and sweet enough to stimulate their appetite.
Alongside their exotic food, the table setting included fragrant flowers and subtle candlelight, and it was close to perfect.
Salad with salmon was Grace’s favorite dish.
The soup that followed was so savory that it even relieved her tension.
Delicious food had power.
It naturally made her feel relaxed, and the sweetness from the stimulating flavors she partook in tonight made her mood soar.
Everything was perfect.
Even if the person she was dining with was the emperor, she thought that in spite of her usual character, as long as the atmosphere was like this, she’d still be able to eat in front of him.
So, by the time that she let her guard down, ‘that’ appeared.
“Now! Today’s highlight! It is my—Cote-amont’s most ambitious work. A bison dish that was marinated with a special spice shall be served to you! I woke up at daybreak today just to prepare this very special barbecue dish!”
Cote-amont proudly introduced the dish.
With one hand, he held a large plate with a cloche cover over it, and he presented it as though he was showing off his secret weapon.
“Cote-amont’s bison dish has also been praised by His Majesty the King,” Lucas said, boosting Cote-amont’s confidence. “Back when he was still the Crown Prince, he always requested this dish whenever he visited House Blacke.”
This bison dish was a unique and rich dish that no one else in this entire kingdom could imitate.
And it was also a meat dish that even Lucas, who rather enjoyed a vegetarian diet instead, sometimes enjoyed.
Cote-amont smiled, his shoulders raised as high as his ears.
“Now then, let me introduce to you the dishes that I’ve prepared!”
He raised the plate up high.
“Presenting, ‘Skewér Gyros’!”
Cote-amont lifted the plate’s lid exaggeratedly.
Grace couldn’t resist her curiosity and so she looked expectantly at the revealed food beneath the lid. However, at that same moment, her face turned white.
From the sidelines, Julie was also happily watching, but her expression hardened at once.
“It’s one of the best dishes in my home country. Bison dishes are especially difficult to prepare, and they could only be caught by hunting them, so the main ingredient itself is quite the rarity! Now! It is meant to be eaten using this long skewer over here, and you may go ahead and pop, pop, pop the individual pieces right onto the skewer!”
As Cote-amont spoke loudly and cheerfully, he reached over to one of the three skewers next to the cooked meat and raised it over his head.
Without realizing it, Grace’s eyes were fixed upon the tip of the skewer, and her head immediately started spinning.
‘I-I shouldn’t look.’
Yet again, however, as her fear reached its highest limits, she did not dare close her eyes.
Her vision repeatedly turned white, then black, then white again.
And the extreme nausea bubbling up inside her reached its peak the moment Cote-amont stabbed the sharp skewer into the meat.
Grace’s vision spun abruptly.
She couldn’t hold on any longer. She squeezed her eyes shut.
But the sound.
Stab! Stab! Staaab! Slosh—
She couldn’t block out the sound.
And this sound itself started playing over and over in her head, matching the mental image she had of the scene.
The constant replays in her mind gave her such a shock that it felt like the ground was moving far, far away from her.
“It seems a bit aggressive, but if you just go stab, stab! Like this, the juices inside will come out, and then…!”
“Please, please wait a moment.”
In the end, Grace couldn’t endure any longer. She stood up from her seat.
Coti-amont, who was in the middle of explaining his dish excitedly, stopped at once. Lucas and Jaime, too, who were nodding along with Coti-amont’s violent display, froze the moment they heard Grace’s cry.
She clenched her trembling hands into fists.
She spoke urgently, trying desperately to hide the tremors in her voice.
“I-I apologize. P-Please excuse me, just a moment…”
She wanted to say more, as an explanation for her actions, but her tongue would not move at will.
The more she said, the more she couldn’t push down the rising nausea.
Grace soon rushed away from the table, biting her lower lip to the point of bleeding.
Lucas jumped up and tried to chase after her.
But Julie, Grace’s personal maid, stepped forward and stopped him.
“Y-Your Excellency! Please wait!”
When Julie stood in his way, Lucas looked at her with a frozen expression.
He looked completely lost.
“What’s going on? All of a sudden, Grace, why…”
Julie sighed regrettably, staring back at the skewer stuck in the middle of the delicious meat.
‘Ah! And it was already the perfect dinner…!’
I should have told the chef in advance to remove all the sharp objects on the table…
Julie regretted it, but it was already spilled milk.
‘What do I do.’
She hesitated for a moment, but she made up her mind right away.
She wondered if they would find fault in her lady here, but she knew that the atmosphere would become worse if the situation would be left as it was now without any explanations.
Furthermore, she was worried that they would misunderstand Grace.
“Your Excellency, would you happen… to know the word ‘phobia’?”
“Yes. Actually, it’s the first time I’ve heard about it through Milady as well. I was told that there are people in the world who feel so much fear for something very specific.”
“Fear? Please explain more in detail.”
He said this with a more subdued voice, and he listened intently to Julie.
Even as his blue, fiery eyes constantly watched where Grace had run out.
“For some people, it’s the phobia of seeing circles very closely spaced together. For others, it’s the phobia of clowns. Fear of these things, whether its particular patterns or appearances, bring about heightened symptoms—and it is called ‘phobia’.”
It was a very unfamiliar concept for him, as he had always been on the battlefield, violent as the environment was, whether he was on the offense or the defense.
The fact that anyone could be afraid of circles, clowns or other things was something that he could not wrap his head around.
However, Lucas wasn’t the kind of man who’d unconditionally reject anything that he could not understand or had yet to experience.
If he were such a man, then Cote-amont would never have been instated as this household’s chef, being that he was a foreigner with a dubious background.
He listened to Julie, silently urging her to explain more.
Julie inhaled briefly, then she plucked up the courage to say it.
“She is suffering from a phobia of sharp things.”
She said it.
She said it.
There’s no turning back now.
Julie continued with quivering lips.
“It’s called Aichmophobia, a fear of sharp things. Milady is particularly vulnerable against sharp, pointed things like that. Injections, needles, the tips of any blade—those things.”
After saying all this, Julie looked up to gauge Lucas’ reaction.
He muttered to himself, gulped, then went on to punch himself on the forehead.
He surely looked distressed, though it couldn’t be said what exactly he was distressed about.
“Oh no. I-If I knew that this would happen, I would have prepared another dish!”
Cote-amont’s face had turned completely white, and he covered his mouth with both of his gloved hands, looking as if he was about to cry.
“No, Milady won’t blame you Sir Chef, or you, Your Excellency. Rather, she would start blaming herself. Right now, she’s probably berating herself for not being able to tell you in advance.”
“Blame herself? This is not something that she should blame herself about. It’s my fault for not being considerate of it.”
When Lucas said this, Julie was speechless.
‘He’s the one! He’s the one!’
He had such a scary face, and even had such sharp eyes, but he was a much better man than the likes of the two flimsy, ugly men of the marquisate.
Ahh, was this what people mean when they say that one’s character is linked directly to one’s beauty?
Right, she must have heard that somewhere.
A great personality comes with such great beauty.
She thought that it was just a load of bull, but now that she was seeing it with her own eyes, she couldn’t deny it.
She might be deciding too hastily, but Julie believed that she had a pretty good eye when it came to people.
And until now, this instinct of hers had never failed her.
‘Maybe Milady’s world will become warmer if this person is by her side.’
Julie sincerely wished for her lady’s happiness.
The lady who she had been serving for so long now—while the lady was sick, while she would drink her medicine with her own hands, while she bravely would try to brush off her fears and stand tall. The very lady who she had been cheering for all this time.
“Your Excellency. Milady’s phobia is not known by outsiders. The Marquis never let anyone know about it, and he considered this to be a flaw.”
Julie spoke resolutely.
“For that reason, Lady Grace had received little to no treatment for her phobia.”
This would not be considered snitching.
“Is it something that needs treatment? No, are you saying that it can be treated? Then why hasn’t the Marquis taken the initiative for Grace’s treatment…”
This… is a direct accusation of all the mental abuse that the lady had been receiving!
“The Marquis thinks that Milady’s phobia is a type of psychotic disorder. He thinks that way towards his own daughter.”
As Julie let out a heavy sigh, she continued with a firm tone.
“Really, he treats Milady as though she’s half insane.”
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