Avoiding Jonathan’s gaze, Rayna signaled Maya the destination, requesting a reliable driver.
When they reached the carriage, Rayna sat next to Calyx, and Maya sat on the opposite side. Rayna and Maya exchanged glances. The look in her eyes was to confirm if Maya had understood. The maid noticed Rayna’s gaze and nodded slightly.
Maya was from a knightly lineage and had exceptional loyalty to Rayna. She was quick-witted and trustworthy, making her the only person in the mansion on whom Rayna could rely.
‘I’m lucky to have Maya,’ Rayna thought to herself as the carriage departed. She shifted her gaze outside the window, trying to focus on the scenery, but it wasn’t possible.
‘Now really…’ Rayna quietly touched her forehead with her hand.
‘I’m f*cked.’ Rayna keenly felt the weight of her bleak future.
She had a gut feeling a while ago, shattered the well-maintained character she had built so far, and struck Jonathan on the back several times.
And instead of fixing the situation, she ended up making the same choice as the original heroine.
Calyx was undoubtedly a pitiable and unfortunate child. Rayna also knew from the original story how he had been treated in the Ingerson household as he grew up. That’s why she had no intention of interfering with the original plot. She knew she didn’t have the strength to feign ignorance if she ever met Calyx.
“Haa…” Rayna let out a small sigh.
‘It’s already spilled milk, so I should think of a way to handle it.’
She needed to protect Calyx without being falsely accused, like the heroine.
‘But I can’t just blindly avoid Lucius.’
Rayna anticipated that Lucius would quickly trace Jonathan’s actions.
‘Lucius will come looking for the Krollot family.’
Rayna nipped her lower lip. If she had to face Lucius anyway,
‘Then, I have to completely eliminate myself from suspicion at that time.’
How should she go about it?
‘First, hide Calyx.’ Rayna clenched her fists.
‘While helping Lucius.’
She would pretend to help him and provide false information to delay him from finding Calyx.
‘I need to buy as much time as possible.’
Rayna recalled the words of the original heroine to Lucius:
“It’s a misunderstanding, Your Grace! I was only taking care of Calyx and looking for a way to cure his illness!”
The heroine had tried to explain that she had made efforts to save Calyx.
‘If only Calyx had been cured, the war wouldn’t have happened,’ Rayna thought.
However, Calyx had already died, and whatever she might claim, Lucius wouldn’t believe her.
When she had read the original story, she had thought of it as a setting to highlight the heroine’s unfortunate situation. But now, after taking Rayna’s body, those words were her lifeline.
“There’s definitely a way. If only I had a little more time…”
The heroine had clearly said that there was a way to cure Calyx.
‘I need to find out what that is.’ Calyx needed to live for her to survive as well.
Rayna shifted her gaze to Calyx, who had been quiet since getting on the carriage. He sat with his hands folded on his thighs, his head deeply bowed as if he had given up all hope.
‘Given his past, he must have learned quickly how to give up.’ The Ingerson family only intended to exploit Calyx’ illness, and the director of the hospice where Calyx was sent only cared about taking money from the Grand Duke.
‘Otherwise, he wouldn’t have run away and become a wandering orphan.’
Rayna had been lost in thoughts pitying Calyx and suddenly widened her eyes. The child was pinching the back of his hand. It seemed to be a habit, and there were already calluses on it.
“What are you doing?” Rayna asked, and Calyx flinched in fear. Only then did she realize her mistake; she had asked in her usual cold tone, just as she had always acted.
“Don’t,” Rayna said, but her words didn’t come out very gently, which further startled him.
Calyx briefly paused in response to Rayna’s comment, then continued. He was in a state of extreme anxiety and restlessness.
‘I did something foolish.’ Calyx regretted his own folly. He had followed a stranger with just one desire: to not return home.
The child pondered over the conversation he had overheard at the mansion between the woman and the man. It was clear that the carriage was heading to the place of his death.
‘Would it have been better if I stayed at the hospice?’ …There was no way. Regardless of the choice he made, Calyx would have made an unfortunate choice.
‘Because that’s my fate.’ With that thought, Calyx’ pinching became even rougher. It was a habit he couldn’t change, no matter how many times it was pointed out. Every time he did it, his uncle scolded him harshly.
‘I should stop before I get into trouble…’
Just as his face contorted in the agony of his body not responding to his thoughts,
“Stop it; it hurts.”
A warm and gentle hand softly held Calyx’ hand. At Rayna’s words, the child looked at the back of his hand.
‘It hurts.’ Only then did Calyx feel the pain. Why hadn’t he noticed the stinging pain earlier? He had only thought about stopping because adults disliked it, but never thought about the pain. When Calyx stopped, Rayna took a handkerchief from her pocket.
“You asked me to let you stay because you wouldn’t say anything, see anything, or hear anything,” she said, wrapping the handkerchief around Calyx’ hand. “I used to say that a lot, too.”
With a cold smile, Rayna remembered her past. After her parents passed away when she was in elementary school, she had to move from one relative’s house to another. Even lifting a spoon to eat would make the adults sigh deeply.
With a tight household budget, she was treated like a thorn in the side and given a hard time. New school supplies, new clothes, and even fitting into the family’s quality time were all impossible for her to ask for.
‘I won’t ask for anything, so please don’t hate me.’ As she heard Calyx’ plea, she overlapped her own childhood with the young child. No, actually, from the moment she read the original story, she had overlapped his early life with her own. Rayna knew better than anyone what kind of feelings Calyx had when he spoke. That’s why she couldn’t turn away from him like the adults who had belittled her.
“If you ask for too much, you’ll seem like a greedy child.”
Calyx slowly looked up at Rayna.
“I thought that if I just asked for one thing and nothing more, they might consider me a good child.”
Surprise filled Calyx’ eyes. Like Rayna, Calyx had been trying to be that kind of child for a long time.
“I only wished not to be hated. In the end…”
Rayna tied the knot of the handkerchief and locked eyes with Calyx.
“I wanted to be a loved child.”
“That…” Calyx bit his lip.
“As a matter of fact, it’s the biggest of all desires, isn’t it?”
Calyx had always thought, ‘Why is it so difficult to ask for just one thing?’ It wasn’t until he was abandoned at the hospice that Calyx realized that this one thing was a much greater desire than all the other things combined. Of all things, it was the only one he coveted.
“It’s not greed,” Rayna said in a calm voice. “Children whining and wanting to be loved is natural.”
“. . .”
“A child who wants love should only receive even greater love.”
Calyx bit his lip. Something deeply suppressed within his heart swelled and grew warm, swelling as if it could burst at any moment, making his nose twitch. His eyes welled up, and his vision became blurry.
“But no one…”
No one loves me. Tears rolled down Calyx’ cheeks as he swallowed the last words.
Seeing him cry silently, Rayna reached into her pocket once again. She pulled out something she always carried with her: candy wrapped in a handkerchief.
Rayna had had weak lungs since childhood and often coughed, so she always carried candy in her clothes as a request from the Count and Countess.
For some time now, people born in the empire were all born with minor incurable diseases. There were ominous rumors that it was because the land of the empire was contaminated, but Rayna considered it nothing more than hearsay. Contrary to what others said, she knew Rayna’s body was healthy.
‘I’m glad I carried it with me, even if I don’t need it.’ She offered the candy to Calyx.
“Eat this candy if you ever feel like pinching the back of your hand again.”
Calyx’ gaze shifted to the candy in Rayna’s hand.
“Tomorrow, too, and the day after tomorrow, I’ll give you more candy.”
Calyx remained silent.
“Instead of pinching your hand, I hope you’ll be excited about the candy you’ll have every day.”
Rayna placed the candy in Calyx’ hesitant hand.
Although her tone was still somewhat commanding, Calyx didn’t seem startled. Rayna’s hand was incredibly warm, unlike her cold voice.
“If you don’t want it, I won’t send you back, and I won’t hand you over to a slave trader.”
Calyx’ mouth opened slightly.
“I’ll make sure you stay where we’re about to arrive.”
It was to ensure Calyx’ safety from Lucius and the Ingerson family.
“So, you have to help me, too. Can you do it?”
Calyx looked at Rayna with trembling eyes. As he blinked, a tear on the corner of his eye rolled down, but no more tears followed.
The suffocating feeling on his chest that weighed like a stone, pressing down on his heart for so long, seemed to be gradually disappearing.
“I can do it.”
Instead, a sense of hope and expectation made his heart beat rapidly.