“No, I’m not. You don’t know anything about me. And if you did, you’d probably hate or despise me.”
She said this not because her conscience was pricked, or because she was so full of self-loathing that she could not bear to be without self-deprecation. Mariella was a wise woman, and she knew how to stir a man’s emotions with her sharp tongue.
Her words today would come in handy later, when this handsome young man came looking for her.
A simple, pitiful, and pathetic statement that would make him think twice before falling in love with Mariella, thinking she was a precious young lady from a noble family, and then, when he learnt her true identity, tossing and turning and finally running to her.
But not so much as to be tacky, so as not to bore him to death.
Mariella curled the corners of her mouth, pleased with herself.
“That can’t be true, I know everything I need to know about Miss Marie. She’s generous enough to listen to a passing beggar, and sweet enough to take time for me.”
“No matter what you look like, no matter what your status, no matter what your past. It doesn’t matter, it’s all for naught, and I know that because I lost my eyes. It’s what’s inside that makes a person really shine.”
The man’s words were too obvious. So right, so good, so fragrant that no one refutes them, but rather because they are, no one believes them.
What was it about the man’s simple words that made Mariella, the cleverest maiden in the village, stiffen?
Was it because he was so handsome?
Was it his attitude and sweet nature?
Or because it was so thrilling to have him treat me like a noble lady?
“Do you believe in the saying that what’s on the inside is more important than what’s on the outside? Because honestly, I don’t know that I do.”
She had unknowingly asked the man a heartfelt question.
Compared to the ‘Miss Marie’ she had been portraying for three months, the topic of the conversation and the tone of her voice were distinctly different, but he couldn’t see it.
“I didn’t realise it either, until I met you.”
Mariella was silent. She thought the man’s green eyes seemed to be piercing her, even though she knew he was seeing nothing.
Those emerald jewel-like eyes seemed to recognise her as the only person named Mariella, not as a maid, or a survivor of the exterminated Hoban family, a heavenly orphan, or a humble commoner.
Perhaps it was no wonder that Mariella, who had spent her life trapped by labels and identities, was shaken by the man in front of her.
She flicked back the blanket that covered her shoulders, reached out and cupped each of his cheeks. It was a feathery, gentle, careful movement.
The young master sensed the change in mood and called out cautiously.
“Young master Jay. I’m going to kiss you now, and if you don’t like it, please turn your head to the left.”
The man did not turn his head, and Mariella carefully settled her lips on his.
A simple, innocent bird kiss.
When the short kiss ended and Mariela lifted her head, the man asked.
“Did you like it?”
“I liked that kiss you just gave me, and if you’d like to do it again, what can I do, Miss Marie?”
On closer inspection, the man’s ears are red. Mariella couldn’t help but smile at the boyish attitude of a man facing his first love.
The man’s face burned even redder. He clenched his jaw, unable to speak.
Mariella watched him through clenched teeth, then leaned in close. Then she said in a voice barely above a whisper.
Kiss me, Young master.
* * *
Mariella’s promised day off was invariably once a month. But somehow, lately, she’d been coming down to town every day. To be precise, she sneaked out of the estate every chance she got and visited the young master at his home.
“It’s dangerous out there, Young master, so you can stop giving me flowers.”
These days, he was often waiting for her outside the house. He ran his hands along the wall and down the stairs, plucking wildflowers that bloomed near the house to make a bouquet.
“It’s all I can do. I want to give you everything, and these flowers are all I have right now, Miss Marie.”
When he speaks like this, her heart swells with emotions like a goblet flower in spring. The man’s rosy cheeks, gentle laugh, and respectful tone gave Mariella a strange, unfamiliar thrill.
She made the difficult decision to acknowledge her feelings.
It was love.
* * *
“Where have you been so much lately?”
It was one of those days. Marianne’s axe-eyes narrowed as she questioned Mariella.
Mariella remained nonchalant and ruffled the young lady’s hair.
“Are you saying that I must have had a lot of practice shooting? At best, I’ve just wandered around the market. Compared to the nearly twenty years I spent dedicating myself to the young lady, it’s a short idle time, isn’t it?”
Marianne hadn’t stopped being suspicious. She scanned Mariella’s face in the mirror.
“What’s so suspicious?”
Gulp. Mariela swallowed hard.
“You’re not going out with an old man again, are you?”
“An old man. I may be your maid, but there is such a thing as a broken heart.”
“Marie, you must stay with me until I die. You know that, don’t you?”
The conversation resumed its normal flow. Mariella smiled sheepishly and leaned in to whisper playfully in Marianne’s ear.
“Of course, the lady is my life saver, so I’m going to my seven lives1The idea of seven lifetimes is a traditional Asian concept, with the belief that one can be reborn seven times to achieve enlightenment. with you.”
“This is my sincere feeling.”
Marianne pouted her lips at the childlike manner in which she spoke. Mariella took the young woman’s pouting in stride.
“I know better than anyone that you mean it.”
“Marriage is not possible.”
“Do I have to answer that again? I think I’ve told you a few times that I understand.”
‘I’ve hit the nail on the head.’
Mariella’s hand that had been brushing the young woman’s hair stopped in midair.
“Just in case, you can’t seduce my husband later. I mean, I like people who only look at me.”
“I didn’t think I’d be so trashy in your eyes, but, well, I get it. First of all, miss, go get married. Go get married and we’ll talk about that.”
Mariella said as she finished doing the young lady’s hair, putting away the comb and other odds and ends.
“Hmph. But I like my prince on a white horse, and I don’t want to give my life to someone who isn’t me.”
“Oh, my lady. You’re dreaming foolishly. There are many princes in the world, and many handsome men, but there are no handsome princes.”
“It just so happens that Prince Josef is of marriageable age.”
Mariella asked in a tone that said ‘what does that matter?’
“They say he’s very handsome.”
Marianne’s eyes twinkled.
‘My lady, you are dreaming again.’
Mariella shook her head.
“So, Marie. If I stay here and wait, maybe the Prince will stop by sometime? Our hunting grounds are famous all over the country, so I’m sure he’ll drop by at some point.”
“Ah ah, I can hear the Count falling over by the back of his neck from here. Lady, don’t you know that a queen is by blood, not by looks? A princess from a neighbouring country, or a duchess from a duke’s family, would be in that place.”
“The bigger the dream, the better!”
“The more realistic the dream, the better.”
Marie nailed it.
But she couldn’t shake the suspicion that she, too, was dreaming.
A dream about a man named Master Jay.
A few days later, it was night. Mariella lay in bed, flipping through a book.
When I became a mistress in the future, I find it interesting to read one or two books as a countermeasure not to fall behind the noble conversation of the aristocrats.
She was in a dark room, reading by candlelight, when a child from a distant village came to her.
“Big, big trouble!”
She instantly recognised the child. It was the younger brother of Robin, the boy she had assigned as her errand boy.
The boy sobbed and said that the young master’s house had been visited by men in white cloaks. Mariella immediately grabbed her cloak and ran to the young master’s house.
In truth, Mariella’s visit would make no difference. She was merely a maid in the Riedenburg household, and she had no power to defeat the men who would come for him. Besides, there was quite a distance between Count Riedenburg’s estate and his home. If the villain intended to harm the young master, his life would be over the moment Robin’s brother knocked on her door.
Mariella was fully aware of that fact, and yet she rushed towards him.
When she pushed open the door and called his name, he was sitting at a table with a group of white-cloaked men. The atmosphere was not what she had expected.
“Ah, you must be Miss Marie. I was afraid I was going to leave without seeing you.”
Mariella looked around at them with a nonchalant expression.
Among the men in white robes, a particularly cold-looking man caught her eye. The man was just as handsome as young master Jay, but he was somehow more withdrawn and distant.
With the help of those around him, Master Jay stood in front of Mariella. He knelt down on one knee and kissed the back of her hand.
“With your help, young lady, I was able to return home, and for that I am grateful. If it were not for your kindness, I would have frozen to death or starved to death in these neighbourhoods.”
Soft, sweet words. Mariella suddenly felt tears well up in her eyes.
The Master is drawing a line in the sand. This is how he leaves. Putting the past behind him, he’s going back to his life.
Her springtime dreams are shattered.
Mariella bites her lip. She didn’t want to let her voice break.
The Master lightly rubbed his cheek against the back of her hand. He kissed her fingertips, then her knuckles, then the back of her hand, then her wrist, then raised his head to look at her.
He couldn’t see her, but she could see his green eyes.
“Just a little while longer, and I will come to ask you to marry me, Miss Marie.”
Mariella blinked at the unexpected words.
“Yes, because you are my world.”
He grinned and squeezed Mariella’s hand.
- 1The idea of seven lifetimes is a traditional Asian concept, with the belief that one can be reborn seven times to achieve enlightenment.