The two people who were responsible for my parents’ unhappiness…
I was one of them, to be honest.
After I had turned three years old, my mother became so worried about me that she withdrew from the house, which affected her social life and her health. This turned into multiple rumors by outsiders, and she became even more withdrawn.
She became more and more ill, and as her health slowly deteriorated, so did her relationship with my father.
The other person who caused these problems is a maid who works in the mansion.
She is the primary culprit for making my parents’ relationship get even worse, telling me nonsense and depriving me of my voice.
It all began when I was three years old that day when the maid whispered something to me.
That day, I was looking at a simple book to practice spelling. The language of this world resembles English.
The location was a large greenhouse, brightly lit by the sun, and it was chilly, so I was studying on a white garden table in the warm, fuzzy greenhouse.
One might wonder a three-year-old child who had yet to gain any memories of being an adult would be studying in such a mature manner.
It was because I had wanted to read my mother a book of stories that she had always read to me.
It was exciting to have her read to me and it made me so glad to have these intimate moments with her.
So I wanted to do the same for my mother, whom I loved.
I was just concentrating when I heard a call and looked up to see Rouge, a maid with red hair and slanted eyes, bringing me a cup of tea.
“Alice-sama, I’ve brought you some tea.”
“Thank you, Rouge.”
When I thanked her, Rouge smiled and looked at the book with a smile.
“Young mistress is really eager to learn, isn’t she? As expected of the special child of the Master and Mistress.”
I blushed from my cheeks and giggled after being praised.
Although I was shy and quiet to begin with, Rouge had been with me to some extent because she was a maid in the mansion when I was born.
Besides, Rouge would always praise me for being a “special child of father and mother,” as she was doing now, which always made me happy.
“Do you think I can read as well as my mother?”
“Yes, you’ll be able to read right away. Then you will read the book to the Mistress and put her to bed, won’t you?”
I puff out my cheeks in protest as Rouge says so with a mischievous smile.
“Don’t tease me again! She’ll defining be happy to see me!”
“Ufufu. I’m sure she’ll be happy to see you.”
Rouge’s eyes narrowed downward and she smiled softly in agreement.
Incidentally, it’s Rouge’s habit to squint and smile as she looks down on ones face. Her eyes take on the shape of a crescent moon and her mouth smiles softly. I liked this smile.
“You’ve been using this book for a while too, haven’t you?…Yes. Why don’t we try something a little harder?”
A little harder? When I gave her a blank look, Rouge explained that she had found some interesting books while she was cleaning Father’s library.
“I suppose he had planned to give them to you when Young Mistress was able to read better, don’t you think? There are a couple of books with illustrations.”
“Wow, this is great! I can read them though, right?”
As I reply, Rouge gives me a mischievous look and says,
“Young Mistress, working on problems a little ahead of your age is the key to improving! Besides, don’t you want to surprise the Master and Mistress by improving without telling them?”
“Ohh…I’d love to surprise them, but, umm…”
Then Rouge felt that I was getting somewhat on board with the plan, so she lowered her voice even more and whispered in my ear.
“It’s the bookcase on the far right as you enter, miss. There was a collection of simple books on that bottom shelf. There was a book there with a princess on the cover.”
When I heard that a princess was on the cover, I was suddenly intrigued.
“A princess?! Wow! Hey, hey, were there any animal books?”
“Yes, there were. Young Mistress loves princesses and animals, doesn’t she?”
I was filled with excitement. If my father was going to give them to me, I could look at them just a little bit sooner, couldn’t I?
Besides, I’m sure he would be very surprised and praise me if I improved.
With those thoughts, I immediately decided to sneak into the study that evening.
My father is rarely in his study before dinner.
The butler is not in the study at that time either, as he is preparing for dinner. This short time is a good time to go.
Somehow I had a feeling that he would be offended if I went in and read with impunity, so I entered the study unannounced, saw that there was a wall of heavy oak brown bookshelves, and decided to look around from the right shelf, just as Rouge had told me.
“Umm…furthest to the right…lowest shelf…”
I peeked at the shelves at my feet and saw that there were indeed several books with brightly painted covers that were different from the others.
As I looked through some of them, I found the book that Rouge had probably mentioned.
“Wow! How beautiful!”
I flopped down on the floor and opened the heavy book. The smell of parchment and ink filled me with anticipation.
But when I actually looked through it, I realized that the book was very difficult to read. I could only recognize one or two things, but there were too many archaic expressions and words I didn’t know.
I stuck with it for a page, but I could hardly read it.
“I guess Dad thought it was too hard for me.”
When I was about to put the book back on the shelf, a piece of paper slipped off, convincing me that this was why he didn’t give it to me.
“Yikes! Did I rip it?”
I picked it up in a hurry, and it was a single, pinned-up document. I was relieved to see that it was apparently not part of a torn book.
However, I was immediately perturbed.
“Over here…it says…”
On one of the pieces of paper was the first word I ever learned to read and write, “Alice Rebecca Archelaus,”
“Why is my name here?”
I looked at the other words out of curiosity. There was also my father’s name there.
“What’s this word?…Umm…”
The following words appeared several times in the document.
“This one is…secret…what’s this one?…Oh, promise…And the rest is…?”
I gasped at the list of words.
Alarm bells begin to ring in my head.
My hands and feet went cold, and the hand holding the paper didn’t even tremble—it was frozen in place.
It was dangerous to speculate any further on the meaning of this document.
I knew instinctively that if I strung the words together even a little bit, I would be faced with a reality I didn’t want to face.
However, I wanted to be reassured that I had read it wrong rather than giving up halfway through. And so, I continued reading.
“Secret, promise, Alice Rebecca Archelaus, abandoned, child, sell, Heimnis…to Siegmund Stephan Archelaus.”
I read the document in bits and pieces. I didn’t know more than half the details, but the basic words I could pick up didn’t seem to reassure me in any combination.
I grabbed the paper as quickly as I could and barely wedged it back on the shelf, dropping it repeatedly with my trembling hands, and then ran out of the study on shaky legs.
Then I searched first for Rouge, the one who had triggered this event.
In the midst of the mansion’s busy preparations for the switch from day to night, Rouge was easily found. She was waiting in front of my room.
“Ah! Miss. Did you find the book?”
The red westerly sun entering the mansion illuminated Rouge’s red hair in a more fiery way.
“Sniff, Hic…Ah, Rou…ge…”
Seeing me trembling with a very pale face, Rouge stopped moving for a moment, and with a swift movement, let me into the room.
“Well, well, what’s wrong with you, with such a pale face?…You poor thing.”
…Now that I have an adult’s memory, I realize that it was strange for her to bring me into the room without having called for anyone after seeing me in that state.
“I found…some strange things.”
“Oh, what was it?”
Rouge smiled quietly, as usual.
As an adult, Rouge should have been able to read it properly. I wanted her to deny the impending reality.
I tried to hand the paper clutched in my trembling hand, but my fingertips were paralyzed with panic and couldn’t open it properly.
Taking my hand, Rouge opened my fingers one by one.
“Oh, isn’t this the Master’s work papers? He’ll be upset, won’t he? We’d be in trouble if it was an important document.”
With a grimace on herr face, Rouge opened a rolled up piece of parchment and began to read out the contents.
“Orphan Purchase Agreement. Both parties are bound to maintain the confidentiality of the contents of this document. Imphidose, director of the Heimnis Imperial Orphanage, agrees to sell the one baby girl to Lord Siegmund Stephan Archelaus for 100 gold pieces.”
Rouge read it out loud, smiling serenely.
Then she quickly looked up and stared at me.
When my eyes met Rouge’s, my body instantly went rigid.
And in the next moment, I felt a chill so strong that I felt it begin to crawl up my insides, almost like I was going to faint.
No, this can’t be happening. This can’t be happening!
“……Miss? I don’t see anything incorrect about it, do you?”
For the first time, Rouge’s smiling eyes, which had never been shown before, were actually open.
I looked directly into them for the first time.
There was madness floating around in their depths.
It was as if they were telling me that she enjoyed hurting and threatening others. And there was some kind of deep hatred floating around inside too.
The alarm bells in my head were ringing so loudly that they seemed to be breaking through my eardrums and becoming reality.
I couldn’t even perceive the reality that came into my field of vision. I felt a strange, cold, black blur crawling up my body.
It wasn’t so much the contents of the documents as it was the danger in front of me.
I tried to escape, but I couldn’t move my legs very well and fell back. Then Rouge dropped to her knees and came closer to me.
“You are indeed the master and mistress’ special child. Foolish and uninformed, aren’t you?”
I try to shout out to interrupt Rouge’s words, but my throat was so tight that I couldn’t speak. I flailed my hands around and tried to keep her away, but one hand roughly held my arms together and tightened them so much that they almost made marks on my arms.
“Come now, Alice-sama, let’s learn some more words, shall we? This word is ‘orphan.’ This is ‘sell.’ The orphan that was sold is you, Alice-sama.”
Rouge’s dark eyes widen and she shows me the papers in front of me.
Her eyes are hazy and gleaming with excitement as she stares at me with contempt.
I can’t believe that underneath the smile I always thought I loved, such horrible eyes were hidden!
Did she always sneer inwardly like this when she laughed? Was she always making an expression while hiding those hateful eyes?
A relationship that I thought was warm, a memory, crumbled soundly.
“Oh, that’s right! Why don’t you read this to the Mistress tonight? If you can read something this difficult, I’m sure she’ll praise you for it!”
Rouge said happily, making a gentle smile like the one she had shown in the daytime.
I shuddered, unable to even scream any longer.
“The Mistress doesn’t know anything. She doesn’t know that her child died soon after birth, or that you were e picked up from a nearby orphanage that night and was just a mere stranger with the same hair color. How sad that you didn’t know, right? Wouldn’t you like to teach her?”
Rouge continued in an enraptured voice.
“There is no such thing as a child between my beloved Master and that woman. There is no such love born between them!…My Master, ahhh…My Master should dump a woman like that right now…I should be making him happy. Hahahaha!”
Rouge was staring at nothing while muttering about her beloved Master, when she once again turned back and grabbed me.
“My lady, do you know what a nobleman thinks of orphans…of nasty commoners?”
“Ah—” is all I can say. Rouge said that I was an orphan. So she means me.
“Ordinary nobles don’t even want to exchange conversation directly with commoners. On top of that, they don’t like to see something born with even a vague status….The Mistress is a great philanthropist, but I wonder if she really would be that way after finding out.”
I heard this and felt my head grow blurry, unable to accept reality. I couldn’t feel my limbs much anymore.
“If she knew that her only daughter was long dead and the one sleeping beside her was a filthy commoner stranger. If she knew that the Master had deceived her!…It would make her go crazy, wouldn’t it? Hey, Miss Alice! We’’ll have to keep it a secret from the Mistress after all, won’t we? You must be careful about not being careless…”
As she said this in a harsh voice, Rouge released my arms that were holding me down. Then she lifted her little finger and forced it into a pinky-promise.
“You are a puppet made by the Master’s kindness. Let’s not speak about anything unnecessary. Alice-sama doesn’t talk about anything. Let’s protect the Mistress together, shall we? Can you promise me that?”
I moved my trembling mouth into a “yes.”
I replied reflexively. In a split second, I had imagined myself telling mother the truth and making her despair…that she would hate me and that my father would throw me out of her life for being useless.
But my voice was no longer coming out of my clenched throat.
And that’s when my consciousness was cut off.
The last thing I saw was Rouge. I couldn’t see her face because it was backlit by the setting sun, making it appear black.
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4 thoughts on “Chapter 3: Backlit by the Setting Sun”
Ooooooooh this maid… the image gives me the chills…
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A th0t among tth0ts. She needs to get axed. Literally.
Hope that maid gets killed. How dare she do that to a child.