Elise used the pretext of feeling unwell to skip a day of her usual activities, but her respite was short-lived. The very next morning, Genovia Irrien summoned Elise downstairs. It remained a mystery just how forcefully she had insisted on the immediate presence of the princess.
Ivetsa, who had descended to convey Elise’s reluctance, returned with a swollen right cheek. As soon as Elise laid eyes on her, she snatched her shawl and made her way downstairs.
“Oh my.” Genovia, her fists clenched as she scrutinized the maids before her, grimaced and waved her hand. “Elise, you claimed you were unwell?”
Elise observed as the maids reluctantly rose, then turned her attention back to Genovia.
“Please, my lady, refrain from tormenting innocent individuals with needless schemes. If you found fault with their service, you could have informed either me or Lady Cynthiane. We would have taken appropriate measures…”
“You truly have a kind heart.”
Genovia performed the same exaggerated greeting as she had on the first day. With her golden hair elegantly tied up on both sides, she appeared even more vibrant and spirited than usual. It was astounding how cunning and madness lay concealed beneath such a charming and adorable exterior.
“Well, if you had accepted my proposal willingly, these innocent people wouldn’t have been subjected to such treatment, Elise,” Genovia sighed deeply, as though she genuinely regretted it, and gently shook her head. “Your refusal in front of them brought about this situation. I apologize.”
“By the way, Elizabeth, you are still a beauty even when you’re unwell. Honestly, I was quite taken aback when I saw you in the drawing room on the first day.” Genovia affectionately patted Elise’s clenched fist.
“Just being around you brightens my day. Princess, you did promise to spend today with me, considering our missed meeting yesterday, right?”
Not wanting to engage in conversation, Elise simply nodded.
“I’ve been longing to visit the Tapestry Exhibition Hall after all this time. The depictions of Rotiara’s seasons there are simply breathtaking. Shall we go together?”
Genovia cheerfully tugged her along, paying little heed to Elise’s gait, which caused her legs to wobble. Ivetsa followed closely, her teeth clenched.
“My lady, could you please walk a bit more slowly? Her Highness hasn’t completely recovered yet,” Ivetsa implored with reluctance in her voice
“Why? She looks perfectly healthy.” Genovia turned to Elise and asked, “Are you feeling tired, Elise?”
“Ivetsa, I’m truly fine.” Elise turned her head away from Genovia and conveyed her assurance to Ivetsa with a quiet smile. “Please, go and take a break. I’ll go for a short stroll and be back in no time.”
“Please don’t push yourself too hard.”
“Very well, I understand.”
Elise took the first step, giving Ivetsa a gentle nudge. Genovia, who had been silently observing Elise with an enigmatic gaze, soon burst into giggles and trailed along.
As the two women descended to the first floor after their visit to the Tapestry Exhibition Hall, they attracted constant curious glances from the people of Rotiara.
This wasn’t surprising, considering it was a meeting of a lady who had once been the leading candidate for the position of duchess and the current duchess herself. Moreover, both were representatives of the influential Van Yela and Argan houses. Such an encounter was far from ordinary.
“Give us a little smile, Elizabeth,” Genovia murmured gently into Elise’s ear, her lips still adorned with a sunny grin. “Do you want to face embarrassment before the entire castle’s inhabitants?”
“Or perhaps everyone in this castle is your accomplice?” Genovia glanced briefly over her shoulder at Ivetsa, who was cautiously trailing them from afar.
“For now, it appears she’s one of us, wouldn’t you agree? Your maid was putting in quite the effort to avoid catching my eye.”