A week later, Rietta visited the East Annex again to cast blessings on the ladies’ items. Erne tipped off the fact to Killian, but Killian only reacted indifferently.
Shortly after Erne left, Killian headed to his private training grounds with Leonard to warm up. Leonard clenched his teeth and barely managed to take Killian’s strike. He took a step back and breathed heavily
“I have relocated our people in the Grand Temple Havitus. There are no reports yet.”
Killian partially turned his body away after pushing Leonard’s sword from the bottom to the top. Then, after Leonard showed his back, Killian kicked Leonard and pushed him away. Leonard quickly regained his balance and stood on guard against Killian again, all the while gasping for air. Then he continued his report.
“It was indeed early April when the plague began to spread in Casteiner. But I don’t think that can be a sufficient basis for doubting the grand temple as the cause of the plague.”
Killian flashed a cold smirk.
“I know. They probably moved quickly because they didn’t want to miss a big client and lose them to another temple.”
With an opening in Leonard’s posture, Killian struck and sent his sword flying.
The sword flew upwards before falling down at the corner of the training grounds.
“But there’s a high possibility of them being the cause.”
Leonard felt a tingling shock from the elbow to his shoulders. He held his wrist and let out a deep sigh. Then, he expressed the courtesy of the defeated.
Killian pointed at the opening in Leonard’s right thigh with the tip of his sword.
“You still haven’t fixed the opening here when you’re distracted.”
Leonard scratched his head with a groan.
“Yes… I know it in my head, but it is not easy to fix.”
Leonard picked up his sword that fell across the training ground. Killian glanced at the ankh ornament tied to his sword’s hilt, it was a blessed item that was regularly sent by the temple.
The Grand Temple Havitus. Priests were also human, even the temple would be unwilling to set foot in a land that was already dealing with plagues and demons. Just as a blessing was not a perfect defense, priests were also not immune from demons and plague. The fact that many priests had already lost their lives from the plague was proof of that.
Now that the service fees of priests have risen to the ceiling, the most tempting task was to cast a large-scale blessing in a huge neighboring city that had not yet been infected with the plague, like Axias. Such a task was not high in risk and they could pocket a large sum. Axias was a wealthy city, they would have thought it was a golden opportunity.
He thought of the report from the grand temple. As long as the reliability of the information contained in the report was already suspicious, it was better not to do it at all. Was it a product of simple error or greed?
Killian was a person who did not mind doing the hassle of dealing personally with most of the documents and reading all the reports himself. That also meant he hated false reports that made him waste his time. He did not have enough free time to care about such trivial things, after all.
Maybe his judgment was wrong when he found false information in the report, but Killian left open the possibility that the plague may not have occurred naturally.
Even if Axias needed to be blessed, the Grand Temple Havitus had already lost a lot of points from Killian, so they would never get any unexpected profit from them. Still, there was definitely a need to be careful of the plague.
Killian recalled the report from Erne that Rietta was in the East Annex.
A blessing caster. Could she be of use to me?
Helping would be difficult if she did not have any experience in dealing with plague demons. But Killian paid attention to Rietta as someone who could see the plague demon with her bare eyes, was free from the influences of the temple, had no suspicious history, and was a reliable blessing caster.
“Jeez. How could only you all receive the blessings? You should have let me know too!”
“You weren’t here back then. But you can ask Lady Rietta to do it for you today!”
“Lady Rietta, please cast the blessings for our rooms first!”
The second time Rietta visited the East Annex, four women who had not been blessed because they were absent from the last time or had other business were added. Among them was the girl who climbed the tree and the powerful woman that she had met last time. It was Anna and Seira. Again, a dozen beautiful women began to surround Rietta and started chattering while wearing and taking care of the things that had been blessed. Some women even came out with more items. However, as there were less items to be blessed, it was a relatively easier job than last time. After finishing her work, Rietta cautiously opened her mouth.
“Are you all willing to call me again when the effect of the blessing is over?”
A woman answered right away.
“Yes. I would like to ask for your service again.”
“Me too. I like you more than the priests of the grand temple.”
“You live nearby, too. If we ask for your service, you can come right away.”
“You’re sweet and you also do your work meticulously.”
“Your price is cheaper than the temple.”
“Above all, you’re not arrogant.”
As everyone was on the same page, they nodded their heads and giggled together. Rietta let out a small sigh of relief and bowed her head politely to express her gratitude.
“Thank you. If you would allow me, I would like to come every week to supplement the blessings of five places. Can I do that?”
It was quite burdensome to meticulously cast blessings throughout more than 10 spacious rooms a day. If she divided it into five places every week, she would be able to work much easier. The ladies gladly gave their permission.
“Then, it will be 15 places for three weeks.”
“Yes, there are also 15 of you, so it will be just right.”
“There are 15 of us? One is missing. Who is it?”
Convincing expressions passed by the ladies’ face. Rietta asked with a slightly confused look.
“Is there one more person?”
“Yes. There are 16 people living here… But never mind Irene.”
What’s going on? Who’s Irene?
Rachel added a little bit as she noticed something was bothering Rietta.
“She’ll probably say she’s not interested. Don’t worry about that. She’s a noble so it seems that her family is already sending blessed items and holy water for her.”
Nevertheless, wearing a blessed item and receiving the blessing directly in the abode was incomparable in terms of stability. It was like the difference between wearing an umbrella or wearing a hat to avoid the rain. However, an unexpected word from Celine made Rietta forget her thoughts about Irene.
“Lady Rietta, don’t you want to live in the castle? If you say you want to live here, he will allow you.”
Another lady agreed with her.
“Oh my, that’s true! Come live here, it’s nice. Sometimes, you can also see His Lordship.”
The ladies looked at her with their eyes shining. Rietta was taken aback. Last time, she thought that they just had a good relationship, but this was beyond good.
What kind of atmosphere is this? They want to increase the number of competitors?
She knew that these women were not afraid of the Archduke of Axias at all. But this was too far from her imagination of the typical harem that would hold someone in check and would fight over a man.
Rietta hesitated from telling the truth. Due to various reasons, Erne, the butler, asked her not to tell other people of the goodwill she got from the Archduke, as there were a lot of people who got in trouble after offending the Archduke for trying to abuse his generosity.
Rietta remained silent following his request. She thought the ‘goodwill of the Archduke’ was not just the financial assistance she received, but it also included him releasing her without doing anything to her.
It was not like she was a lady who would be in trouble for having such a rumor. She was also in no position to be worried about losing her chances of getting married. Remarrying was not her concern as of now, so it would not be a problem at all. Life in Axias was so safe and peaceful that she did not need a man at home.
Rietta was not aware of it, but from the public’s point of view, she was the woman whom the archduke was interested in. And that fact alone protected her from the men who would have otherwise flirted with her, making her life in Axias very comfortable.
Anyway, Rietta kept quiet about how nothing happened between her and the Archduke of Axias, so the women should not have known that the Archduke had no sexual interest in her at all. But she could not understand why they wanted to increase their competitors.
Regardless of Rietta being flustered or not, the women huddled around her, touched her hair, complimented her beauty, and began to promote the East Annex.
“If you live here, you can always stay pretty. We always share our housework so there’s not a lot to do.”
“We also get enough living expenses!”
“It would be much prettier if you braid your hair and decorate it. If you live here, I will do your hair every day.”
“We won’t bother you. We will treat you well!”
“We can also get the blessings for free!”
Anna, the blonde young lady, added brightly.
“You’re so shameless! We should give her payment for that!”
“Oh, is that so?”
Anna quickly covered her mouth.
“I’m sorry. She’s still immature.”
Giselle had an attractive beauty mark under her eyes. She smiled with her hands on both Anna’s shoulders. Her charming brown hair that was braided to one side gave off a lovely and energetic feel.
“Did His Lordship call you today?”
“No, he didn’t.”
She smiled lovingly.
“Then, will you have tea time with us?”
They laid mats in the beautifully bloomed garden and began drinking tea. Fragrant tea and sweet cookies were placed on the mat. Rachel, a petite woman with black short hair and purple eyes, came out with a tray of cookies. She was the first person who called Rietta to the East Annex.
“I made this myself. Do you like it?”
“Really? You’re very skilled.”
“I also helped her.”
Rachel laughed at Anna, who joined the conversation. Helen let out a loud sigh.
“Anna, what you did was not help, but interfere.”
Anna dropped the cookie she was biting with a shocked face. Rachel calmly brushed off the cookie she dropped on her clothes.
“It’s okay, Anna. You’re improving.”
“Thanks to you, we cooked what could have been done in thirty minutes for an hour and a half.”
“But at least we can still eat it.”
There were no maids in the East Annex. The ‘East Annex ladies’ told her that instead of living there and receiving living expenses from the Archduke of Axias, they helped with the castle work when they were short-handed and they needed to do the housekeeping of the East Annex by themselves.
They needed to clean their own rooms and they also cleaned up common spaces such as corridors and the yard and handled their own laundry, meals, and other things. They even cut firewood on their own in winter. They said that sometimes they just bought it when things did not go their way. Even women who were not particularly talented were in charge of preparing meals, finishing up, and organizing the garden. It sounded happy and pleasant, but it was certainly not the life of noble ladies.
“Irene is the only one doing nothing. She did not even clean the yard.”
Someone lightly replied.
“Because she’s the precious daughter of a Count. Instead, Irene does not receive living expenses from His Lordship.”
“But as long as she’s here, we’re all equal. Everyone does their job.”
Anna complained with a sulky face.
“Irene does not even eat with us and she never comes to tea parties. She does not even say hi whenever I see her, only looking at me coldly. She has never even been called by His Lordship, but always acts as if he was hers alone. I don’t like her.”
In a way, Irene’s reaction might be the most sensible… Rietta drank tea in the simple teacup with a strange feeling and looked at Anna, who grumbled with the women who looked friendly.
She felt weird. Anna looked a little over twelve. Even a child like this was the concubine of the Archduke… How could a child who did not seem to have menarche be so bright even after dealing with such a thing? Rietta herself, who was a 26-year-old widow, suffered so much after receiving such an offer from Lord Casarius. The Archduke of Axias was much younger and more beautiful than Casarius, but she still could not understand it.
How old is she? At most, maybe 15?
When Rietta asked carefully, Seira answered casually.
“No? Anna is 12 years old..”
Rietta became gloomy without even realizing it. She looked at Anna, who was busy pouring milk into her glass with the kettle, her mouth covered by cookie powder, and her cheeks both puffy.
The Archduke of Axias did not touch Rietta, yet she owed him her life, so she did not dare to criticize him. No one even dared to interfere or criticize his privacy.
It was possible because he was a noble. Even though she knew in her head that she should just let it go…
Elise, who followed Rietta’s gloomy gaze, held her cheeks and smiled.
“Oh, Lady Rietta. I know what you’re thinking. But it’s not like that for Anna. She’s just a child that His Lordship picked up on the street.”
Rietta’s eyes were wide open. Anna swallowed the cookie with the help of some milk and shouted.
“What do you mean pick up? I told you, he brought me here to be his wife someday.”
“What should I do with this kid?”
The women messed up Anna’s hair as they were dying of her cuteness while she was angry. Rietta looked at them with a puzzled face.
A child that was picked up? Wasn’t it only the women of the Archduke of Axias who lived in the East Annex?
The women explained that Anna was abused in the monastery after losing her parents, and was then brought to the land by Killian.
Anna had nowhere to go. If she were an adult, Killian would have given her a house like Rietta. But Anna, who was only five years old, was too young to live alone. It was also hard to send an abused child to another monastery. At that time, the women in the East Annex voluntarily took care of Anna.
“But still, I’m like the senior here.”
Anna bragged about the fact that there were not that many ladies who have lived in the East Annex longer than her now. Helen laughed at her.
“Stop pretending to be a senior. Anna, since you peed…”
Having experienced Anna’s embarrassing history firsthand, Helen launched a counterattack, causing Anna to blush and turning her face red. Then, Anna swung her fist tightly in the air and rushed to Helen, making a fuss.
“Oh, oh, the snacks. The snacks!”
Seira giggled and grabbed the tray that was about to fall. Rietta looked at the girl’s face with a puzzled look and big eyes. She had a past of abuse, yet there were no signs of injury on her face. She was a brave and lovely child. Cookie crumbs stuck to her hair as she tried to brush it with her fingers that were covered with cookie powder.
“You’re going to get ants on your hair!”
Helen scolded Anna with a smiling face and shook off the crumbs on her hair. Rietta, who had been surprised for a while, laughed after feeling her heart getting warmed without realizing it.
After a while, Killian visited the East Annex.
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