It was the first time Marquis Blanche had called her in the entire time Erica and her mother had lived in the mansion.
Moreover, it had to happen at a tumultuous time, with just one week until the wedding endorsed by the royal family between the Grand Duke Archleiff and Marquis Blanche family was set to take place.
Erica Blanche’s health suddenly deteriorated even though she hadn’t been severely ill for a long time.
The girl’s mother almost didn’t return every day because she was taking care of Erica Blanche.
Erica Blanche couldn’t even leave her room, perhaps due to the severity of her illness.
“Marquis, I’m Er-”
Erica was inadvertently about to mention her real name and abruptly closed her mouth when she saw the marquis’ fierce gaze.
She swallowed hard, and in a trembling, unnatural voice, struggled to state the name she went by within the mansion.
Erica bowed to him.
“I heard you were looking for me.”
“I need you to help me.”
Erica took a deep breath.
Meanwhile, the marquis let out a long sigh and stroked his chin irritably.
As if that weren’t intimidating enough, his expression grew more stern.
He didn’t seem to be pleased about having to ask a nanny’s daughter for help.
Erica tensed and asked breathlessly.
“Are you asking for my help?”
He was a man who had everything. He was one of the important figures in the empire.
‘I can help such a person?’
It was simply unbelievable and hard to understand.
Meanwhile, Marquis Blanche observed Erica with a sharp gaze that seemed to cut her into pieces.
Feeling his piercing gaze on her, Erica hunched her shoulders and lowered her gaze.
The inspection ended after a long time.
“Your body type and height are pretty similar to Erica.”
Even then, the girl didn’t get what he meant.
But she didn’t dare ask.
The girl wasn’t allowed to do that due to her status.
After waiting for quite a while, the marquis finally spoke with a voice filled with displeasure.
“I’m not sure if you already know, but my daughter’s condition is very bad.”
“Yes, I’m sure you’re devastated by what happened…”
“But that’s exactly why we cannot delay the marriage ceremony with the Grand Duke Archleiff family. Their side will point fingers at our family for keeping my daughter’s illness a secret.”
Thus, the marquis suggested that the girl should become Erica Blanche’s substitute.
The girl was the same age as Erica Blanche.
And a reliable person who had served the Blanche family for a long time.
No, that’s not it.
A person who had a weakness that he could exploit.
And that person was the nanny’s daughter, Erica.
“H-How dare I…”
“Do as I say if you want to save your mother’s life.”
So a request for help turned into a threat in an instant.
Erica’s golden eyes shook violently.
Marquis Blanche knew how much Erica and Julia loved each other.
So it wasn’t hard to pick the best snare to tie the girl’s ankle.
“W-What do you mean…?”
Only then did Erica realize that Julia didn’t show up for days not because she was caring for the sick Erica Blanche in her room, but because she was held captive somewhere in the mansion.
“My mother…! Is she safe?”
“It depends on your answer. What will you do now? Will you do as I asked?”
Erica had no other option.
“I will do what you ask for. So please…save my mother.”
Since that day, nanny’s daughter Erica had gone to great lengths to become Lady Erica Blanche. She even dyed her dazzling silver hair red, which was a trait of the Blanche family.
Of course, she wasn’t allowed to meet her mother after that day.
Marquis Blanche forbade them from meeting because all of his efforts would be for naught if they decided to escape together.
Erica clenched her fists. Her hard nails dug into the soft flesh of her palm.
‘Ten years, no. He said it was until the coming-of-age ceremony. So let’s endure it for just nine years. Then I can run away with my mother.’
* * *
She could hear someone clicking their tongue behind her. The moment Erica’s small shoulders trembled, she snapped back to reality.
Erica wanted to turn around and check how angry Vonvieshu was, but she resisted the urge because such behavior was inappropriate for a young lady of the great marquis family.
The days were always cold this year even though it was March.
The cold wind blew again, stealing the warmth from Erica’s cheeks, and now her cheeks began to sting.
Eventually, Erica hunched her shoulders again.
She was getting nervous, but Vonvieshu’s nagging couldn’t be heard.
‘What a relief. I think she doesn’t scold me because there are a lot of eyes watching.’
After getting out of the carriage, Erica only stood still in front of the great temple.
‘I think it’s been an hour.’
But none of the groom-to-be’s family, the Archleiff Dukedom, had arrived. So she had no choice but to wait like this in front of the temple.
Normally, people would have gone straight inside without waiting in the cold like this.
But today was the wedding ceremony.
It was the long-standing custom of the Angelican Empire that the two parties who promised to marry must greet the goddess together, and neither of them should enter the temple first.
There was even a superstition that if only one person entered the chapel first, they couldn’t receive the goddess’ blessing, and the couple wouldn’t have a good relationship in the future.
‘It’s already not looking good, though…?’
The Archleiff and Blanche families held a marriage ceremony today as part of a deal, and Erica knew this more than anybody else.
‘I don’t know what the deal is, though…’
Erica swallowed a sigh and lowered her gaze slightly.
Something suddenly appeared in front of her at that moment.
A cup of tea with white steam coming from it.
“Please have some.”
A baby-faced young priest was smiling with his eyes as he offered an antique-looking teacup to her.
Seeing that his other hand held a tray with several cups on it, she thought that the temple must be serving tea to the people of the Blanche Marquisate.
Golden hair and green eyes. The boy, dressed in a white priest robe, seemed to be made of nothing but soft lines that blended with the spring light.
‘He doesn’t look like a priest apprentice…?’
He looked older than Erica, but he wasn’t an adult.
Despite his young age, he seemed to have a great deal of holy power since he was dressed in a robe typically worn by a senior priest.
Puzzled by his sudden appearance, Erica only stared at the cup.
Then the young priest whispered so quietly that only she could hear it.
“I put honey in it. It won’t taste bad.”
The young priest offered the tea again.
After briefly contemplating, Erica nodded weakly and said in a barely audible voice.
But she only clutched the teacup because she wasn’t in the mood to drink. The warmth that touched her fingers made her feel a little at ease.
The young priest smiled at Erica before he left to offer the tea to others.
Then, as if waiting, another person approached the girl.
It was the old priest who was supposed to officiate Erica’s wedding ceremony.
He held an important position in the Holy Land when he was young, but after retiring, he returned to his hometown in the capital of the Angelican Empire.
They were only able to get this person to officiate the wedding due to the strong influence of the two families.
“Prince Archleiff is a little late. You must have a hard time waiting.”
Erica replied nervously.
“I’m alright. I’m more worried if the grand duke envoy had an accident on their way.”
She muttered softly, and her kindness brought a smile to the old priest’s face.
“The young lady is very kind.”
“Ah, no, not at all.”
Erica blushed right away because she wasn’t used to receiving compliments.
When Erica lowered her head a little because she didn’t know where to look, the old priest looked warmly at her.
“Please don’t worry. The Archleiff Dukedom isn’t just an ordinary family, are they? They will never lose to anyone under any circumstances.”
“…I’m relieved to hear that.”
As Erica answered with a low murmur–
“Priest, don’t you think this is crossing the line?”
It was Vonvieshu.
As she had run out of patience, she raised her voice without hiding her annoyance.
Given her status, she shouldn’t have acted in this manner toward the priest, who was viewed with higher respect than the aristocracy.
But Vonvieshu was at the temple in place of Marquis Blanche.
She thought she was entitled to speak to this extent, and the temple side didn’t even try to reprimand her because they probably shared the same perspective.
In any case, it was true that the Marquis Blanche’s envoy had to wait longer than the promised time, and was left hanging for a long while without any further notice.
“How long do we have to wait?”