Calyx looked at the woman in front of him with desperate eyes. To say those words, he mustered his last remaining courage.
However, the woman’s face remained expressionless. Silvery hair resembling the moonlight fell gracefully, and vivid purple eyes stared at him. Although her beautiful eyes seemed prim, she looked cold.
Despite Calyx’ plea, the woman stared at him sharply; her tightly sealed lips showed no intention of giving a kind response.
The earnestness in Calyx’ eyes quickly turned into despair. It seemed his efforts were in vain. Calyx slowly lowered his head.
“So.” The one who spoke was not the woman but the man next to her. The same man who stood next to Calyx on the cliff that night as he gazed down to the calm night sea, and asked him to go together in a gentle voice.
Jonathan, who wasn’t as kind as his voice sounded, knelt down and met Calyx’ gaze.
“So, are you going to act like a good boy?”
Calyx quickly nodded his head.
Without being seen, heard, or even speaking, just like someone who isn’t there. That meant being a good boy. People wanted Calyx to be that way.
“How admirable,” Jonathan praised, and Calyx’ eyes widened.
“However, we don’t need you,” he continued and Calyx felt as if his heart had dropped to the floor as Jonathan spoke, “I brought you here to make my little sister happy.”
Jonathan placed his hand on Calyx’ shoulder.
“You’re utterly useless now.”
“Instead, I’ll send you to a good person. What they do might be rough, but they’re quite kind to children.”
Just as Jonathan was speaking to Calyx, Rayna, who had been silent all this time, called out.
“Elder brother, I’ve changed my mind.”
Jonathan’s eyebrows rose in surprise.
“Didn’t you dislike him?”
“No, I just admire my dear brother’s affection.” As Rayna acknowledged her brother’s heart, Jonathan’s face brightened.
“Alright, then I’ll change to another child. This one might be good-looking, but his speech is quite insolent…” Jonathan’s gaze shifted to Calyx, and his words trailed off. He suddenly reached out and grabbed something that had been peeking out from Calyx’ collar.
“What’s this?” he asked, examining the leather strap necklace holding a small wooden figure.
“Oh!” Calyx exclaimed, taken aback. Jonathan pushed him aside to get a closer look at the wooden statuette.
“What’s this unpleasant thing?” Jonathan asked Calyx in a chilling tone.
The soiled, old figurine reminded him of the kind used by sorcerers for curses. If a child possessed such an ominous object, he needed to be immediately kicked out of the mansion.
“Answer me,” Jonathan demanded fiercely, causing Calyx to hurriedly open his mouth, frightened.
“It’s a toy. A sculpture of a hero from a fairy tale…”
“Aha.” Jonathan relaxed his expression. “Where did an orphan like you get something like this? Did you steal it?”
“No!” Calyx vigorously shook his head.
“Pl-please, give it back.” Anxious about losing it, Calyx tugged at the strap.
Jonathan let out a wry laugh and released the necklace from his hand, then looked at Rayna.
“See? Just because I touched his dirty toy, he jumped at me like that. He seems to have bad habits. I guess we should go with another kid.”
“No, I like him. He looks like that stray cat, just as you said, Brother,” Rayna replied. Of course, she had no idea what that cat actually looked like.
“It was getting boring anyway. I’ll take the child and go get some fresh air.”
“You’re taking the child outside? What do you plan to do out there?” Jonathan asked without any worry in his expression. He simply seemed curious.
“Shall I go with you? You’ve never had a toy like this before. I’ll show you how to have fun with it.”
Although Jonathan’s offer was sincere, Rayna had no interest in knowing. No one bit.
‘I guess I have to use that method.’ If she didn’t do anything, Jonathan would stick to her all day long.
“Big Brother,” Rayna sighed. “Why are you like this?” She raised her hand and absentmindedly looked down as she scratched her index fingernail with the thumb finger as she spoke.
“You’re bothering me.”
Jonathan’s eyes widened in surprise, but then he burst into laughter.
“Alright, alright. I’ll stop bothering you,” Jonathan said.
‘As expected. Even Jonathan falls for it.’
When Rayna didn’t want to deal with the count and countess, she acted like this. In fact, she had learned this by eavesdropping on the maids’ gossip. It seemed that the original Rayna had some issues with anger management. She would typically react indifferently to everything, but once she got angry, she couldn’t control herself to the point of acting like a madman and turning the mansion upside down. So everyone was quite careful not to provoke Rayna.
‘Her habit of touching her nails like this is an early sign.’ She had learned this and used it whenever necessary, and it always worked.
“Then I’ll lend you one of my servants, so take him with you,” Jonathan, who wisely stepped back, suggested.
“He has a heavy mouth, so you can trust him.” He was certain that Rayna intended to bury someone.
“It’s fine. I’ll take one of my maids,” Rayna said, no longer touching her nails, and called out,
Maya was Rayna’s personal maid. Jonathan narrowed his eyes slightly when he saw the maid she had called. She was a new addition to the household, brought in by Rayna after Jonathan had left.
“I haven’t seen this one before. Where’s your old maid?”
Of course, Maya had replaced the previous maid, who was let go because she couldn’t keep her mouth shut.
Rayna gave a brief response, “The previous maid was too talkative.” Then she looked at Maya and said, “We’re going out with the child, so get ready.”
Although she spoke casually, Rayna’s hands were sweaty with tension.
* * *
Meanwhile, the Ingerson mansion was busy.
It was because Duke Ingerson, who had been dispatched to conflict areas on the Emperor’s command, had returned.
“You have worked hard, Your Grace,” the butler of the mansion welcomed Lucius with a formal attitude.
“And my uncle?”
“He has temporarily left.” The butler accepted Lucius’ coat and asked,
“I’ve prepared a bath for you. Would you like to have a meal after freshening up?”
Lucius nodded and made his way to the bathroom, dismissing the attendants who followed him to help. He bathed alone, luxuriating in the warm water. Upon finishing, he changed into comfortable clothes. His usually perfectly combed hair now fell casually over his forehead. Unlike the image of him entering the mansion in shining armor, he now looked like any other ordinary nobleman.
Lucius sat down on the couch and leaned back comfortably. His eyes, heavy as if covered with sand, blinked slowly before closing. The room was filled with silence, only accompanied by the sound of his breathing.
He slowly opened his eyes when he heard a knock at the door. Although it was a brief rest, his eyes, revealed below his long eyelashes, seemed even sharper.
“Your meal is ready.”
Following the butler’s guidance, Lucius entered the dining room and sat down at the table. Plates with all sorts of delectable dishes were placed before him. He gazed impassively at the food and then shifted his eyes to the empty chair across from him, where not even food, let alone cutlery, was set.
“Where is Calyx?’ The slight narrowing of Lucius’ brow puzzled the butler.
“Perhaps you haven’t heard?” The butler responded.
“Young Master Calyx is currently at a hospice in the south.”
Lucius’ eyes shifted slowly toward the butler. His previously calm expression suddenly sharpened.
“A hospice? What do you mean?”
“It-it seems there might have been a misunderstanding. Lord Martin would surely have conveyed the news…”
“Did my uncle send Calyx to a hospice?”
Martin was Lucius’ paternal younger uncle. The guardian who had raised the Ingerson siblings after their parents passed away, and had managed the household until Lucius came of age. Even now, when Lucius left the estate for extended periods, Martin naturally assumed the role of acting head of the family.
“Young Master Calyx’ health deteriorated rapidly, so he was sent to a hospice in a southern health resort,” the butler explained.
A health resort’s hospice. Lucius let out a bitter laugh. It seemed that his uncle had become so engrossed in his “temporary” role as head of the family that he believed himself to be the “true” head.
“Grand Duke.” The butler cautiously spoke after observing Lucius’ reaction. “Shall we proceed with your meal–”
“No.” Lucius firmly cut off the butler.
“I won’t need it. I’m going out.”
“Pardon? You’re going out? Haven’t you been away from the manor for over a year?”
Lucius’ lips curled up in a wry smile at the butler’s protest. He stood up, passing by the butler.
“Wh-where are you going?” The butler hurriedly followed him.
“I’m going to the south.”
“To the hospice, where Young Master Calyx is?”
“Yes. Make sure to tell my uncle that I’ve gone to ‘pick’ Calyx up.”
Leaving behind the butler’s guilty face, Lucius quickened his pace.