Time passed while the young maid remained alone in the kitchen, kicking her heels across the floor. She had nowhere to go and she had no intention of leaving here. Here, she was taken care of. And the dukes were nice.
Lately, the maids cursed Erna behind her back. They said that she had deliberately sent Grand Duke Kalion far away to kill him, and that she would bring in a new prince of Aether to hand over Hessenguard to.
Is that really so? The maid remembered what she had seen last night while cleaning her room. The door to the room at the end of the hallway was ajar and Erna could be seen through it. Around her was a mountain of paperwork. Erna constantly shuffled in between papers, writing and reading. At times, there flashed a bright light.
But most of all, she looked tired. Her usual bright smile was nowhere on her solemn face. If what people claimed was true, that she would hand over Hessenguard to Aether and live comfortably with the prince of Aether, why did she seem in so much distress?
After a while of being lost in thought, the maid got up from her seat, deciding to prepare a simple late-night snack, accompanied with flower tea.
Contrary to the lobby, the hallway upstairs was quiet. The maid walked up to the room where she had previously seen Erna in the hopes she was still there.
To her relief, Erna was in the room. Though she was sleeping on her side on the long couch.
The maid knocked on the door lightly, but Erna didn’t wake. So she went inside and placed the food on the table. Scanning the room, she found a thin blanket and draped it over Erna’s body.
Erna suddenly opened her eyes, and the maid stepped back in surprise and bowed her head.
“I’m sorry,” the maid muttered hastily. “I was just trying to cover you up so you wouldn’t be cold…”
When Erna looked closer at the young maid, she beamed.
The maid’s eyes widened in surprise. “Do you know my name?” she asked.
“We met,” replied Erna. “When you first came.”
Evenne was reminded of the day she stepped foot in the Grand Castle. She had met Erna on her way to her quarters with the chief maid, Jean. She didn’t know what to do when she saw the rumored duchess, so she merely bowed her head.
“What is your name?” Erna had asked.
“Evenne. My name is Evenne Elsie.”
It was the first time in her life that she had seen such a beautiful person, and it was the first time that she had been asked a question so kindly. The moment their eyes met, Evenne thought she had done something rude and hurriedly lowered her head, but Erna only spoke with a bright smile.
“It’s a pretty name. Please take care of me, Evenne.”
Even at night, her heart pounded from their encounter and she couldn’t sleep.
Since that day, she hasn’t had a chance to speak with Erna. Naturally, she thought she wouldn’t remember her.
Blinking her eyes, Erna smiled as she saw the food and tea on the table and asked, “Did you bring those?”
“Y, yes! I thought you would be tired…” the maid replied meekly.
“Thank you. I will eat well.”
“No, thank you!” Evenne bowed deeply, without even knowing why she thanked her. “If it’s not enough, I’ll make more!”
“No, it’s enough.”
When Erna smiled as she spoke, Evenne felt her face getting hot and rushed out of the room as if she was running away.
Did she remember my name?
She had only seen her once, and she was merely a newcomer, so how? She wasn’t sure why, but the fact that Erna remembered her and called her by her name made her glad that she stayed.
On the way back to her kitchen, Evenne saw wizards who looked as tired as Erna. It must have been difficult for them too, she thought. She wanted to make some food for them too.
The moment she entered the kitchen while contemplating what to prepare, Evenne was surprised to see the kitchen no longer empty. The chef was frantically moving his hands. When he saw Evenne, he shouted loudly.
“What are you doing, Evenne? Help me here.”
“Huh…” Evenne was bewildered. “I thought everyone had left…”
“Where did you think I was going? I just left to say goodbye to the kids who wanted to go home. The duchess is here, and there are other people left, so why should I be leaving? What are you doing? Come on, peel some eggs there and chop the onions!”
After standing idly for a moment, Evenne hurriedly began to move.
She felt relieved. She wasn’t alone. Other than herself, some stayed, thinking of Erna.
* * *
Erna muttered, savoring the food that Evenne had left behind. She was so absorbed with work that she couldn’t remember the last time she ate. Normally, Orpé would nag her and create a fuss if she neglected her health, but now Orpé was also too occupied to look after Erna.
Evenne had prepared a dish resembling a salad containing pasta noodles mixed with sauce and topped with some vegetables.
I thought they’d all left, Erna thought. Still, she felt good that someone was there to take care of her, and even though she found it difficult, she cleared the plate entirely. Her anxiety had upset her stomach and she could barely drink water.
When she finished eating, Erna put the plate aside and got up to look at the map on the table.
“The advance of Kelon and Nandes has come to a halt,” she mumbled.
According to reports from neighboring cities, strangely, the two countries engaged in a fierce battle with one another. She had no clue as to why it occurred, but she was glad. Thanks to that, only Haband and Aether remain a problem.
For now, Ruben is still clueless…
As expected, Ruben chose to remain within the castle because he did not entirely trust the knights of Aether. It was fortunate. If he were to discover the truth about the situation, Erna’s plans would be spoiled.
“How long will I have to keep Ruben in the dark?” Erna asked herself.
Until I know Kalion’s situation.
Aether’s spell in Wynfield Valley… Ruben didn’t elaborate on the topic, but he had said that Aether was preparing to use the same magic in other places other than the valley where Kalion was trapped. Until she knew the scale of their magic and the places they were planning to exert it on, Ruben had to stay by her side.
Meanwhile, Ruben had asked Erna to spend the night together. He claimed that the two of them must build a stronger relationship. So, Erna excitedly poured an extra dose into his medicine—medicine that could turn a stallion into a castrated horse.
Fortunately, the medicine worked effectively, and Ruben, who had desired to sleep with her, sent Erna away during the night. Erna vowed to put on more extra doses then and there.
Erna took a deep breath, once again annoyed at Ruben’s existence, and conjured a magic spell in the air. The spell they had been working on was on the verge of perfection.
I have to test it now.
Testing alone consumes a huge amount of magical power. If so…
Erna got up and headed outside. As she drew another magic expression in the air, a wall of light was created in an instant, wrapping the building across her. Until the spell is released, no one except her will be able to enter.
Then, Erna went inside and stood at the end of the hallway, facing the wall. She wrote on it the inscriptions she had seen in the ancient ruin.
After the last symbol, the wall exploded and collapsed backwards, revealing a staircase leading downstairs. And beyond it was only darkness.
There was no time for hesitation. The day has come to draw out the power of the pillars underground.
For Hessenguard. For the Grand Castle. For Kalion. For herself. And for the one who came to her room a little ago… For those who believed in her and stayed.