t/w: domestic/physical abuse
“You’re merely this household’s property. A product. Something that Father would sell one of these days. Isn’t that the only use that females have?”
Norman spat these words out with a venomous tone.
“There’s no need to play a farce and pretend that you’re human, Grace. You are not a human being. You were even born with such a feeble body that’s not worth anything at all, so on what grounds are you being so confident? Go to hell.”
But no matter how low Norman’s blows were, Grace did not bat a single eyelash.
On the contrary, the more Norman spat out these harsh words, the more uninterested she looked.
Grace relaxedly closed her eyes and opened them once more. Then, she looked at Norman, as if she was wordlessly asking if he had anything more to say.
This provoked Norman even more.
He wanted to make that damn, serene face crumple right then and there.
“What are you looking at…!”
Norman could not keep his hand at bay, and so it shot forward to slap Grace right across the cheek.
And he spoke with such a hate-filled voice.
“You’re just a lowly daughter of a lowly second wife. Don’t you dare think that you can inherit anything in this household, Grace. Even a single speck of dust is wasted on the likes of you.”
What a tiresome, run-of-the-mill pattern.
Pick a fight. Raise a hand. Make a threat.
Grace reached up to cradle her burning cheek in one hand, and she replied listlessly back.
“Small-minded, insignificant Norman O’Ellin.”
“Weak human, so full of himself, with a moral compass that gets thrown away in the face of only a penny or two.”
“Narrow-minded, petty human. You also know about it, yes?”
Grace uttered not a hint of profanity amidst the words she spoke emotionlessly, and yet just those few sentences scratched exactly at Norman’s nerves.
“UUUGH! YOU GODDAMN WENCH!”
And eventually, the dam had burst. In his inability to contain his anger, he kicked Grace squarely over her stomach.
Norman’s sore spot was these three things: ‘insignificant’, ‘narrow-minded’ and ‘petty’.
More than anyone else, Grace was well aware.
After Norman kicked her, Grace collapsed while clutching her stomach, from which she could feel a sharp pain.
She bit her lips hard just in case she might let out a pained groan.
The shocked Julie came running at once.
“AH! Milady! Oh dear God, please stop, Young Master! If Milady collapses again and can’t go anywhere, Milord will be terribly angry!”
“Get out of my way! That bitch needs to be educated!”
“Young Master! H-Her Majesty the Queen will be holding a ball soon! Milady received an invitation—what if she can’t attend? Please, please stop!”
Even as she was bewildered, Julie stood in front of Grace to shield her, begging in front of Norman while she rubbed her flat palms together in a desperate plea.
The moment the queen’s ball was mentioned, Norman held his breath and clenched his hands into fists.
It’s true that their father was turning a blind eye to Norman’s abuse of Grace, but at the same time, their father would also be furious if there was even just the slightest mishap in Grace’s socializing schedule.
“You…! Both the master and the maid are equally insolent!”
In the end, Norman’s anger compelled him to raise his hand once more, and this time, towards Julie’s cheek.
He made sure that he got a good hit on Julie first, and that’s the only time that he finally stormed out of the room.
“Milady, are you alright? Oh good lord, how could he hit a woman across the stomach? What a terrible fiend!”
As Julie spat out these words, her voice hitched.
Julie stared tearfully at Grace as she was using one hand to cradle her swollen cheek, and the other hand to clutch her stomach. Meanwhile, Grace herself stared back at Julie, feeling sorry because she did not want her maid to get hit.
“I’m sorry. You got hit because of me, Julie.”
“What are you saying, Milady?! Please don’t be sorry! And I’m fine. I’m sturdy, so my face doesn’t even swell easily. But Milady isn’t like that. Goodness me, what kind of person would even hit this pretty face.”
Seeing Julie huff like that, Grace gave a pained smile.
Still, if just something like this was enough to knock Grace down, then she would have been nothing but a doll made out of salt, which would eventually melt and disappear.
“I’m fine, too. I’ll get a small bruise, I guess. But never mind that, what about the favor I asked?”
“Ah, yes. I did as Milady said.”
Julie quickly brought over a small jewelry box that was perched on Grace’s vanity table.
And one particular gem adorned atop the jewelry box was glimmering brightly.
Then, Grace asked Julie to bring her a cold towel, and so she remained alone in her room. She fiddled with that shining gem.
It was a gem that gave off various colors, but if you listened closely, you’d hear a subtle sound coming from inside it.
—You better behave properly, debaucherous wench!
It was a replay of Norman’s voice as he wreaked havoc inside the room.
It was a ‘recording stone’ that she had obtained at a very steep price.
Items that had been left behind by the mages of the old were very expensive and complicated to use, but these items had so many novel functions.
Grace gently caressed the gem on the box until it became red.
The blinking red light stopped, and soon completely faded.
This meant that the recording was properly stored now.
Calming down her trembling breath, she murmured with a firm voice.
“I told you so, Norman. You shouldn’t have hit me.”
Even a little mouse would bite back when cornered.
And, a human being who had been bitten by a little mouse such as that might meet a fatal end…
You’re the one who doesn’t know, Norman.
* * *
Time went by at a snail’s pace.
Lucas went through the week mechanically, but all the while, he kept thinking that next week was coming too slow.
Perhaps this was because there’s one day of next week that he was looking forward to.
And finally, the day of Grace’s visit arrived.
‘He’s being really weird.’
Jaime Brade, Lucas’ deputy, squinted at his superior and master.
‘This person right here restlessly trudged through the last week like a dog that couldn’t stay still, but then he’s suddenly in such an obviously good mood like this today?’
After he so quickly left work early today, all that’s left in his schedule was dinner with Lady Grace O’Ellin.
‘No way, is our dear Duke looking forward to dinner?’
But that guy? The same guy who’s like an unmoving boulder in front of women?
Jaime observed his lord with a mixture of surprise and delight.
Shk shk shk, tak! Shk shk shk, tak!
His hands rhythmically zoomed through the documents.
Even as the duke reviewed and signed the papers in front of him, his hands were so light that it looked like they were blurring in the air.
As always, he had a prim and proper posture, a prim and proper gaze, but his work efficiency was of a different kind today.
He went through the piles of documents at a breakneck speed, and it even seemed like he was working about three or four times faster than the usual.
‘Kyaah— Not even ten seconds per page.’
Shk shk, tatak— tak!
Had the duke worked at such a pace like this all the time, the days that Jaime had to do overtime would have been halved.
Grinning, Jaime furtively teased.
“What time is Your Excellency getting off work today that I can’t even see your hands anymore?”
“Don’t nag, Jaime. Just focus.”
“Hmmmm. You’re working so efficiently though, so why don’t you usually work at this pace?”
“Do you want me to leave you alone here to do all this boring paperwork overnight?”
“Ahh! That’s not fair. I’m going to complete everything that’s on Your Excellency’s schedule and return safely back to the manor on time. Ah, and of course, it’s my job to pick up Lady Grace today.”
When Grace was mentioned, Lucas’ eyes—which had been practically nailed on the documents—glanced up.
Jaime quickly perched his chin on both his hands and pulled up a cutesy face.
“Am I not Your Excellency’s competent right-hand man, Jaime Demigras?”
Lucas was heavily cringing at Jaime right now. After staring at the aide sourly for a moment, Lucas looked down at the documents on the desk again.
However, not missing out on this timing, Jaime spoke up.
“But Your Excellency, what kind of flowers should be prepared?”
Lucas had already positioned his writing hand to move at lightning speed once more, but then that hand halted where it was.
“Um, should it be yellow lilies after all, since that flower symbolizes House O’Ellin? Or maybe green roses, since they’re popular these days? Oh! Hyacinths are in season, too, but no—as expected, yellow lilies would be better, right? Anyhow, ahh, the day has finally come that I’ll be preparing flowers that you’ll be giving to a lady~! It’s something that I can finally experience since I’ve lived long enough in this world, hahaha!”
Jaime was really only teasing, but what he said was nevertheless quite important.
Lucas thought, it’s the first time that he’s inviting a woman to his home, and yet he didn’t even think to prepare flowers in advance!
Surprised by this realization, Lucas raised his head. There was a serious expression on his face.
‘I made a mistake.’
Grimly, Lucas jumped out of his seat. Jaime, on the other hand, was cupping his hands together while holding an imaginary bouquet, but he quickly stopped doing that.
‘Did I tease him too much?’
Jaime hurriedly backed down and shielded his head with both hands.
‘Seriously, why do you keep trying to tease me when you’re this scared anyway.’
Shaking his head as he looked at the cowering Jaime, Lucas paced here and there around the office with huge strides. He walked past Jaime’s desk.
Jaime’s desk was actually only temporarily positioned there, but since it was such a huge office, Lucas did not meet any obstacles in his way.
After walking back and forth exactly three times, he halted.
It’s difficult. It’s so difficult to think of a flower that would match her.
Pure yet firm, slender and sensual. While trying to wrack his brain for a flower that would embody these traits, Lucas suddenly snapped out of it and looked up, baffled.
Pressing down on his knitted brows, he mumbled roughly to himself.
Just now, what did he think about Grace O’Ellin? Pure, firm, slender, sensual?
Considering the handful of times he met her before?
Dumbfounded by his own train of thought, Lucas shook his head. Then, he headed back to his desk, sat down, and tried to speak in a voice that was the calmest he could possibly utter.
“Choose whichever. Flowers are flowers anyway.”
“…Huh? Really, anything?”
Lucas narrowed his eyes again, looking as if he didn’t want to think anymore as he went back to reviewing the documents.
Shk— Shk— Shk— Shk— Shk—
His speed was still the same quick pace.
No, it seemed like he was going even faster.
‘Hmm. Weird. It surely looked like you were thinking hard about it though…’
After observing Lucas for a moment more, Jaime shrugged and shifted his eyes back to the documents.
If that’s not the case, then that’s not the case. Jaime was too scared to tease his boss any further.
And so, they each focused on their own documents after that. But then, ten minutes later.
Lucas put his quill right into its inkwell at that moment, then he soon jumped up from his seat.
“Jaime, get up.”
“W-What? S-Suddenly, why?”
He strode swiftly towards the coat stand, then towards the rope in order to call the butler.
“Prepare a carriage for me.”
He was concentrating on his work just now, but then he’s suddenly calling for a carriage…?
Entirely speechless, Jaime stared blankly at Lucas, who just glared fiercely back at the aide. He cocked his chin once.
Meaning, get up and put on your coat now.
“W-Wait a second, Your Excellency. We were in the middle of working, but where are we going all of a sudden!”
Putting on his coat with haste, Jaime asked as he hurried out the office doors, following after Lucas’ footsteps.
Walking with an unrelenting pace down towards the readied carriage that the butler had prepared, Lucas answered succinctly.
“To buy flowers.”
Didn’t he just tell Jaime to buy it?!
¹ There is a tale by Ramakrishna where a salt doll dove into the sea to fathom its depth, but it melted the moment it touched the water. In the doll’s pursuit of the unknown, it had managed to know and find itself along the way, but because it had been too reckless, it had to pay an irreversible price in the end. Inspired by this tale, Ryu Shi-hwa also wrote a poem titled ‘Salt Doll’. ↩
I’m a bit rusty when it comes to poetry, but here’s my attempt at translating the piece lol
In an endeavor to measure the depths of the sea
Diving into the waters
Like a salt doll
In an endeavor to measure the depths of you
Diving into your blood
Plunging into you
Is what I did
Like a salt doll
No vestiges left
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