Grandfather shook his head. “Patrolling is needed in the Underground District. It’s not good if the murders keep happening. It hasn’t even been that long since a riot broke out in that district.”
“Wasn’t it during the reign of Viognier 2nd?” Alex asked.
Viognier 2nd was the late king. I had always remembered him as a great ruler. At least that was how grandfather viewed him. But I think grandfather only thought him to be a good person because he didn’t get offended when grandmother cut all ties with the royal family.
“Because of the Red Riot your dad couldn’t bring me here for years,” said mother, “If he had to visit the palace, he went alone. I think I couldn’t come to live here for four or five years.” She looked at father over her teacup. Father was frowning.
“It was really dangerous back then,” he said, “Rioters came all the way to this district, destroyed the properties and broke into mansions.”
By their account, it must have been a chaotic and complicated time. I was completely uninterested in their politics for now. I was only interested in the ongoing murders. Murdered may not be always created out of bad politics, sometimes murderers just happen to be made naturally.
I once read that there are about eight serial killers per 10,000 people. In that sense, it wouldn’t be surprising that there was at least one serial killer among us.
My brothers joined in the conversation with the adults concerning the situation of Schway and the royal family. I was lost in my own thoughts.
Public display of those murdered, and brutal injuries on the victims’ bodies. It has been happening even more now. Whoever killed them had no intention of hiding. It seemed he was mocking the people, making a public spectacle of his deeds: Be afraid! Look at what I can do to you. You are trash and you need to beg for my mercy if you want to live.
I had seen idiots who assaulted people in my past life spouting such childish nonsense. They liked to play God. In the place where I used to live, murders like these would have been easy to resolve. The police would need to examine the bodies to establish a pattern from which they could deduce the likelihood of the next murder and the place.
But this place had no police. They had no investigators. Here, the cases were harder to solve precisely because no one was trying to solve them. The murders get bolder here. Who knows? Some day they might even reach the Teresa District. The district was full of careless, easy-going people.
“Now, let’s stop with these unpleasant stories. Alice, so many people have requested to visit you,” said mother, with a smile. I wanted to gag. “In the afternoon, will you go through all of those letters and choose those whom you would like to meet? Also call young ladies of your age from good families for a tea party. You’ll need to do this, so that your brothers can meet ladies from your age group as well.” I think at that point, my brothers and I paled.
Grandfather must have noticed, because he burst out laughing. “It makes sense for Alex and Aaron to be surprised at this,” he said, “But you, Alice? Haven’t you been waiting for this day your whole life? I wasn’t expecting you to look so sickly at the prospect of visits.”
“Well, people change, grandfather,” I murmured, half-heartedly. I don’t really remember the details of dates from my past life. And I don’t really remember what kind of opinion I held of the prospect of marriage before. But all I know is, I am not looking forward to it right now, or maybe ever! I will avoid it with all my might.
How do I act reluctant about this without damaging my family’s prestige? I couldn’t think of a way. I needed to tell them but I don’t know how. How do I broach the subject of not wanting to marry anybody when everyone, in this world, looked forward to it? When rejecting marriage would cause a scandal.
I need to finish reading those botanical books. I wanted to buy some tools which can extract the essence from the plants. I wanted to imbue these essences into accessories that I can use as weapons. I wanted to learn about which plants could be poisonous, and which could heal. And here I am, caught up in useless, unproductive things about marriage!
“You even caught an invitation from Madame Circa. I thought it would take at least a week or two to set the date, but surprisingly, she answered immediately. She is free tomorrow. She must have read “One Week in Schway”. You really had a great debut party, Alice. I’m so proud of you.” Mom had a big smile on her face. I, on the contrary, didn’t feel so optimistic.
“Are you really, mother?” I said. I couldn’t help it. I felt like a beautiful object on a shelf to be shown off to the world. I was a person! “Are you really proud of me for drawing men to me with a promise of a pretty face and a strong family name? Is that all I am good for?
Mother’s smile hardened on her face. Father, grandfather and my two brothers were speechless. The silence in the drawing room grew. No one moved. It was as though time had stopped.
Did I say something wrong? I wondered. I didn’t think so. I was more than a pretty face, pruned up to attract men like flies. This shouldn’t be something parents should say they are proud of. I remembered when I was learning to read and write. I would read aloud to her or show something that I had written in class. She would compliment me and say she was proud of me. I remember when I stubbornly wanted a horse-riding lesson. The next day I had fallen from the horse and bruised myself. She had said then that she was so very proud of me. Those little things mattered to me. I was doing things for myself, and learning. It meant a lot when she was proud of me then irrespective of the bruises and the mistakes I made in my letters.
But this? I didn’t even want to see men, or get married. But no one asked me what I wanted. I was thrust into these social gatherings and meetings without wanting to. And she was proud of me for putting up with it without complaining?
Of course, she would be proud. In this world, women weren’t allowed to do anything else than snag a worthy bachelor and manage the household while appearing elegant and poised. Besides, my change in behavior and thinking hadn’t been wasn’t apparent to many people. Maybe my brothers who thought something had changed. And that silly boy I had threatened. Others who knew were dead. I had done well to act in accordance with the social conventions set in this world for women.
But hearing ‘I am so proud of you’ from my mother for something as silly as this was the same as me, a psychopath, manipulating people. Without emotions, without feelings. It felt like she was trying to manipulate me into thinking I had done something good. Granted, there was no malice in her heart but it just sounded very bland and useless.
“I don’t remember anyone significant,” I said, “I don’t even care about who comes to visit and who doesn’t. I haven’t been asked once whether I want to be involved in these visits or not. Whether I might have other plans in my life. So, why ask now?” I got up from my seat and looked at my parents. “Mother, father. You can choose them as you please. Now, if you will excuse me.” I bowed to them slightly and walked to the door.
Mother seemed to be calling me as I walked out. I thought I saw my father saying something and my grandfather responding. I didn’t try to eavesdrop. It didn’t matter to me. I went up to my room.