Lucia - Chapter 2
18 years old (2)
When he took off his helmet, his black hair flowed down past his shoulders. The servants helped him remove the heavy armors from his chest, arms, and legs. He had never protected his body with so much during war. He had been marching through the streets dressed like a clown, while suffering through the endless people screaming their heads off. He had barely been able to endure marching in the perfect military formation, like the Emperor’s dog.
“Why don’t you hang some paintings here and there? It’s so barren here.”
However, that was not what was bothering him at the moment. An uninvited guest had followed him to his private quarters, being critical of everything. Although he was in the middle of changing, the other man shamelessly wandered around, engrossed in the surroundings.
“This is my bedroom.”
“Strictly speaking, this isn’t your bedroom. It’s the living room that happens to serve as a bedroom. This place is perfectly suited for a guest.”
“The guest living room is on the first floor.”
“If not today, when else would I be able to visit your home. Don’t be so stingy. I have some very nice art pieces. I shall send some over to you.”
He endured the rising anger in his heart; one would never know what he was really feeling from his outward appearance. He had an icy expression, while his red eyes looked calm and at peace.
He stoically let his servants attend to him, as they dressed him in a tailcoat suit. He was preparing for tonight’s victory ball.
He was originally going to rest, and only show up near the end of the ball. If it wasn’t for this irritating uninvited guest.
“I will only be able to go to today’s ball,” he said as he buttoned the cuff of his sleeve.
“Fine. But the party isn’t three days, but five…”
“Are you going back on your words?”
“I got it. Look, Duke. Why do you hate attending social parties? We have delicious wine, food, along with beautiful women. Why don’t you enjoy your time here?”
“I already have more than enough wine at home. I don’t have much of a hobby seeking for delicious food, either. Even without attending these parties, I already have more than enough women.”
“Look here. That’s not the only reason for these functions. Duke, you must help me out here. You gave me your word.”
“I promised I would help you when you become the next Emperor.”
“Is that so? Who do you think will be able to become the next Emperor if not me?”
Crown Prince Kwiz stood up tall and confident.
“Let us talk after you become the next Emperor.”
One never knew how the world would turn. Kwiz didn’t seem bothered by his words, but simply sighed.
“You’re more difficult to win over than a coy young lady.”
“A clingy man is never popular.”
“Mmn? Uh? Duke, was that a joke? That’s a joke, isn’t it?”
Kwiz laughed in amusement, but the other man was less than enthusiastic.
“Let us leave.”
He wanted to kick this uninvited guest from his private quarters as soon as possible.
* * *
The dress shop’s employee couldn’t help but save the day for this pitiful young miss. Lucia had to pay more than double for the dress and refitting. According to the employee, it was ‘today’s’ favorable price. She rationalized it by saying that the dress came along with a corset and panier. However, she wasn’t able to hire anyone to help with her makeup and hair.
Fortunately, Lucia knew some basic makeup and hairstyle techniques. However, if any professional beautician had seen her, they would click their tongue complaining at the miserable techniques and overall feel of her appearance.
By the time Lucia reached the banquet hall, she was tired to her bones. Her legs hurt from running all over town. Also, she had redone her makeup and hairstyle many times due to her poor skills, causing her a lot of stress.
‘All of today’s investments must not go wasted…’
Although she had attended many social functions in her dream, she was still very nervous and worried.
‘Ah… So many people. I’ll be run over by people if I’m not careful.’
The most eye-catching point of the ball were the chattering people all over the ballroom. Though nobles loved parties and balls, they had been abstaining due to the war, so they looked very cheerful and lively now. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that all the nobles in the capital were attending today’s ball.
High-class social parties had limited invitations. Nobles didn’t socialize much with people outside of their social circle. It was nearly impossible for a low ranked noble to be able to attend the same banquet as the high ranked ones, unlike today. Therefore, any nobles looking to make connections with higher ranked nobles would be here. It was a good chance to get acquainted with other higher ranked nobles and make a name for themselves.
The chandeliers sparkled and the tables were overflowing with delicacies. The noble women were draped in fancy dresses and jewels, while men in sophisticated suits surrounded them. The music continued to softly play in the background, creating a pleasurable night experience.
She worried whether she would be able to find him among the huge crowd, but it wasn’t very difficult. She simply followed everyone’s gazes and footsteps, and naturally found herself in front of him.
‘Ah… It’s him…’
Her heart started thumping loudly. He was more charming than when she saw him in her dream. Normally, people only heard of his renown name – the war’s black lion. However, ten cases out of ten, people would be shocked over his good looks. He didn’t appear rough and wild at all. He didn’t just look outstanding, his handsome appeal was unequaled.
Their gazes would lock onto his pitch-black hair and blood-like scarlet eyes, then they would appreciate his sculpted face. His sleek tall bridge nose beautifully balanced his deep eyes.
When he opened his thin lips, everyone would turn silent to listen to his words. His strong jawline and his neck revealed his masculinity.
Lucia had been appreciating his handsome looks with a gaping mouth, when she quickly snapped back to her senses in shock, while looking around to see if anyone had noticed her unlady-like behavior. Thankfully, nobody was interested in the pitiful, ugly young miss.
Lucia swallowed hard.
‘Will… I be able to succeed…?’
The level was too high. He’s not a man you should dare look at, her mind sensibly whispered to her.
Kwiz, who was in high spirits, dragged Hugo all over the ballroom. He wanted to parade around as though he were wearing a priceless treasure. In Kwiz’ view, the Duke of Taran was considered a treasure. He was doing everything he could to win the Duke over to his side.
Neither of the two had explicitly stated whether they had decided to support each other. However, the fact that the two of them were walking side by side and talking made other people’s imagination run wild. Kwiz had used that to his advantage, while Hugo had overlooked his actions in silence.
Hugo was tired and simply wanted to go home. When Kwiz became the next Emperor, he would need to do these things to help him gain supporters, but that was something to think of in the future. He didn’t find it necessary to put so much effort for the sake of the Crown Prince just yet.
‘What can it be…?’
He had been feeling someone’s furtive stare for a while now. He had been a perceptive hunter all his life. He could easily sense when someone was targeting him. He didn’t feel any evil intent, but it made him feel outraged that he would be made into someone’s target. He feigned ignorance and looked around for the other party.
It was unexpectedly a woman. She had brown hair and wore a blue dress; she seemed to be a young miss who had just stepped into adulthood. When Hugo looked toward the female, she avoided his gaze, but he had already found out the truth.
He was used to the yearning stares from other women. However, this brown haired female was not someone falling into that category. She looked like someone who had something to say; her eyes were filled with restlessness and sometimes very desperate.
‘If she has something to say, she will come eventually.’
He brushed her interest in him aside. However, her tenacious staring continued to bother his senses without rest. Now, he was glancing over at her from time to time to see what she was up to. She did not converse with anyone in the ball, nor did she dance; she simply kept staring at him. For a quick moment when he was alone, he saw her take a single step toward him.
But as soon as somebody approached him again, she would step back. He frowned unintentionally. Eventually, the party was coming to an end and she had not approached him.
‘It’s utterly impossible to approach him…’
It felt like he was today’s protagonist. People did not leave him alone at all. There wasn’t a single normal person within his circle of acquaintances. Most of all, Crown Prince Kwiz, Hesse the 9th, did not step away from the Duke’s surroundings.
‘The main instigator for my horrible marriage is right there,’ Lucia expressed toward her step brother. She didn’t particularly resent the Crown Prince. Although the two shared the same blood ties, he had no responsibility to take care of her like a real family. They were born from a different uterus, making them no different than strangers.
The party finally ended, and she could not relay a single word to him. Forget about talking, she couldn’t even get near him.
‘Hhhaa… what to do. Will he be attending tomorrow’s ball?’
She wasn’t sure whether he would be attending tomorrow’s ball and tonight would probably be the only chance she would get. Lucia decided she would attend the next day as well.
It had been five days. Today was the last day. Although the capital had been hosting the ball for five nights, nobody looked tired at all. Most likely, as soon as the party ended, most people would be tired and stay home for a while. It would be very quiet among the high society for some time.
However, compared to the first and second nights, quite a lot of people were not in attendance. Most of the ones attending tonight’s ball were party addicts. Otherwise, they would be hunting for a partner to spend some alone time in the dark corridors or the garden.
Not everyone was there to enjoy the party. There were those with huge appetites feasting on the delicacies; those who wished to make new connections; and others giving flirtatious glances, looking for a discreet fling. Contrary to everyone else, was the loner Lucia, who was out of everyone’s way against a wall, sipping on a glass of non-alcoholic champagne.
She had spent the last five days standing around all night while wearing heels, and it had given her an intense burning pain. Her corset wasn’t too binding, but it was constricting her chest considerably, making it hard to breathe. Although she was hungry, she could only taste a little bit at a time due to her corset.
Although the fragrance of the food was very alluring, she treated it like a background decoration. It was uncomfortable going to the bathroom, so she had made do with a single glass of champagne to wet her dry lips.
She felt how true it was that hunger intensified depression. Lucia was extremely depressed at the moment. She didn’t know whether it was because she was so hungry it felt like her stomach was stuck to her spine, or whether it was because she couldn’t approach the Duke these past five days. In any case, the two had equally caused much distress to Lucia.
She eyed the man in a black tailcoat in the distance. He looked superior compared to anyone else in this place, whether it be looks or status. He was tall with broad shoulders and a slim waist; his body had ideal proportions. Though one could not see his body underneath, anyone could tell he was well-toned.
There wasn’t much time left now. She would not be able to even greet him by the time the party ended. She wasn’t sure whether she would have a chance to meet him again afterward.
‘At least I was able to look at his face to the point of no regret.’
She had been stalking the man discreetly for the last five nights. She admitted she had become way too obsessed doing that. It wasn’t the least bit tiresome looking at him. He was a handsome man, who was pleasing to the eyes. It was fun observing the people around him as well. Especially when women would vulgarly press their breast against him…
He was a beautiful creation, but he didn’t try to gain favors with his looks. His expression was always cold, without any joy, anger, sorrow, or pleasure. He sometimes slightly furrowed or raised his eyebrows. When he laughed, only his lips would cynically smile. Nevertheless, people would try their best to observe his reactions with just those responses.
His presence alone gave people pause. He naturally exuded an imposing presence that suppressed others. It was a ruler’s dignity and the composure of the strong.
Those who looked at him from afar were surprised by the Duke of Taran’s handsome looks, but those who conversed with him could understand why this Duke’s was given the title The War’s Black Lion.
Dominant males, different from non dominant ones, always had women prowling around them, lining up with lust.
Lucia could understand the numerous females who kept trying to talk to the Duke. He held a high position and much wealth; he was handsome and young; he had everything one could ask for. He didn’t have a wife nor a companion. Even searching around the whole world, it would be hard to find someone comparable to him. He was the rarest of the rare. If she had a higher position in society, she would not have hesitated to join those women right now.
‘If I had bigger breasts at least.’
That sigh had many meanings held within it. It was not possible for her to shorten the distance between the Duke and herself.
There was another person equally fatigued as Lucia at the moment. His stress level had risen higher than hers. The useless dregs who stuck to him like glue were testing his patience as he wondered when they would shut up and get lost.
He sincerely missed the battlefield. He could shut people up as much as he liked at that place. His petty joy in life was to behead those who called him a devil. It was a good thing he currently didn’t have any weapons on him. He trusted in his own patience, but not 100 percent.
Hugo shifted his red eyes toward a corner. Nobody noticed he had been observing a particular person all this time.
‘Nothing has changed.’
The frail looking female with reddish brown hair had been standing in the same place, while holding onto the same glass all this time. For the past four days, she had not changed out of her pastel blue dress.
He did not regularly attend parties, but he was sensible enough to know that females did not wear the same dress the very next day. In a five day long ball like this one, they would own at least three dresses and rotate them. If they were so poor they couldn’t even afford three dresses, it would be better if they didn’t show up at all. She couldn’t even earn the belittlement of those around her. He didn’t see her trying to converse with anyone at all, not even once.
‘Is it money?’
If she was interested in his money, it would be better if she could tell him upfront. He was prepared to give her a sum of money with no questions asked. He admired her adamant spirit.
Originally, he planned to attend only the first day, but then decided to attend the next day as well. He was interested whether she would be there the next day. She had stuck to a corner in the same dress and had continued to stare at him. If she intended to catch his attention by wearing the same dress all the time, he wanted to relay the message that she had succeeded.
On the second day, she had not approached him. He could have gone up to her to start the conversation, but he had not. He had waited for her to approach him first. It felt like a game with victory on the line.
In the end, she had set a record by attending the party for five days straight. Kwiz was very happy, even though he hadn’t attended all these days in order to curry favor with him. In the end, the woman could not approach him, and had maintained the long distance between them.
‘It’s probably because of all these dregs.’
Everyone was assured that they had done their best making an impression with the Duke, but as soon as Hugo turned his back toward them, he planned to erase all those people from his mind.
‘It feels like she will approach me if I’m alone… Shall I try and find a place where people can’t find me?’
He’d been attending the parties for the last five days and much of his curiosity for the woman had died down. Kwiz, who had stuck to him like a piece of gum all along, had gone off somewhere.
“Excuse me for a moment.”
When Hugo requested their understanding, everyone expressed their reluctance and watched his back disappear. They assumed he would return after taking care of his business and waited for him while chattering happily among each other.
Lucia, who had been stalking him, was shocked by his unexpected behavior. He didn’t seem the type to wander around in parties. He would usually remain at the same place, and people would naturally surround him. It was the first time he was going off to some place alone. Lucia hesitated for a moment, then decided to follow after him. It could be her first and only chance.
Hugo walked leisurely. He sensed someone following behind him already.
‘What am I doing right now?’
He laughed to himself. He found it funny that he would go through so much trouble to hear what this female had to say. He wasn’t one to waste his time on useless things. It would have been over, had he simply ignored her.
He wasn’t interested in taking her to bed. To him, there were two types of women. The ones he wanted to take to bed and those he didn’t. It was the first time he was curious about a female of the latter type.
‘It has been quite bored these days.’
The high tension, the troops who were swept by madness, and the feeling of hot sticky blood. He was yearning for such things. He snapped out of his wandering thoughts about the war. In any case, he was very curious about this female’s goal.
He headed for the east garden. The moon shined the brightest there, but because of that, it wasn’t a good place for a secret love affair. It was probably the best place to be alone without having to hear some heavy moaning.
He got comfortable by a fountain that had yet to be filled with water. The place was out in the open to a certain degree. There were no people around, but it was not too desolate. He was satisfied with his choice of location. He turned his head at the crunching noise of dried leaves. When a woman appeared, the small amusement within his heart flew far away into the distance.
A well-endowed blond female sparkled like a jewel under the moonlight. His expression stiffened upon the appearance of the woman, who had an equally charming face.
“I’ve only allowed you to call me by name in the past, Lady Lawrence.”
The young miss fell into great shock as her eyes shook. He had drawn a line with his respectable cold words. He took away her privilege to call him by name and didn’t call her name like in the past. Sofia gazed at him with eyes glistening with tears as she bit her red lips.
“Please excuse my rudeness, Your Grace.”
“Did I disturb your walk?”
“No. I just noticed Your Grace walked my way and…”
“I’d be gratified if you could take your leave now.”
“Just for a moment… Just a moment is all I need. Your Grace, please…”
He sighed quietly.
“Are there any words left to say between us?”
“…You’re too heartless. Why do you cast me aside so coldly? I believed we shared our hearts at one time.”
He responded indifferently to the female, who was about to cry out a river.
“Lady Lawrence. I’ve never shared my heart with anyone. I only share my bed.”
Sofia couldn’t believe her ears as her eyes filled with tears. Her shoulders trembled as she wiped her tears away with her handkerchief.
Hugo didn’t bother comforting her and stood a distance away with his hands behind his back. He was beginning to grow irritated. That was precisely the reason he stopped playing with unmarried women. They always broke the rules.
It was frustrating to watch her, so he turned his back toward her.
“There’s nothing good about dragging this out with words.”
Sofia looked at the man who had put a wall between themselves with resentful eyes. She couldn’t believe his coldness. As she gazed toward his back, her resentful feelings slowly changed to something hot. Sofia ran and hugged his back.
She wrapped her arms around his firm chest and dug her face against his back. She was filled with emotion as his body heat permeated against her. She felt regret while thinking of their passionate night together. Her full breasts pressed against his back with hot passion, yet he closed his eyes and heartlessly tore her arms off him. Sofia’s body trembled seeing him turn around and step away in order to maintain some distance between them. He did not give her the slightest leeway.
“What did I do wrong? All I did was confess my love to my lover. Why would you send me roses of separation? You’re too much.”
“Lover you say?”
He clicked his tongue. How could this girl be so stupid?
“I’ve given you the truth since the beginning. I’ve told you to keep your heart to yourself. You promised me that you would do so. Are you feigning ignorance now?”
Sofia had not forgotten. She had not forgotten that she would be dumped as soon as she spoke of love to him. Sofia was well aware of that. All the women before her had experienced the same thing. But this cold man had called her name with such hot passion while holding her warmly that she forgot all about it.
—- I’m different. I’m not your lover. I’m unique.
(note: this is the title of a new segment of the chapter)
Sofia followed in the footsteps of all the other foolish women before her. She fell into the category called ‘the past women’.
“Can’t we…start over again? Your Grace, I will not show you my heart again. It’s okay if you embrace other girls. Please let me remain by your side.”
“You were a beautiful flower, Lady Lawrence. I broke off this flower and placed it in a vase. But the fate of these flowers is to wilt and nothing more.”
Sofia’s lips trembled imagining herself as a wilted flower. His every word mutilated her heart.
While she was his lover, it had felt like she had the world in her hands. He had been passionate and warm. He would not hesitate to spoil her with expensive gifts, either. When she said she had seen something pretty, he would gift it to her the very next day. She paraded all her gifted necklaces and earrings at all the parties she attended, and even when she hinted at their relationship, he hadn’t expressed any objections.
One day, a woman who had past relations with the Duke had warned Sofia.
“If you wish to remain by his side a day longer, don’t try to get closer. Enjoy your days until the day you receive those roses, Lady Lawrence.”
At the time, she had treated those words as nonsense. When she realized the truth, it had already been too late. Sofia had fallen too deep and he had already departed, leaving her with nothing but a bundle of yellow roses.
“Count Falcon’s wife had been picked by another, isn’t she nothing but a wilted flower?”
It had been a long time since they separated. But Sofia had approached him again after she had heard of the rumors flying around. Count Falcon’s wife was widely known for having three dead husbands. Sofia couldn’t handle the fact that she had been thrown away for such a woman.
As their meeting grew longer, Hugo gradually got more irritated. He quickly scanned the grassy forest up ahead. Somebody had been listening to the two of them all this time. Hugo was sure it would be that woman. His goal wasn’t to show off his past relationship to that girl. He had been curious what that hidden girl had to say to him, but now it had become too bothersome.
“You have no business deciding who I sleep with. Don’t think so highly of yourself.”
“She is a cursed woman, Your Grace. I’m simply worried harm would could to your esteemed self.”
He had spent a lot of effort to bed Sofia. She had not approach him first, but it had been him to ask her for a dance and seduce her to his bed. He had enjoyed a fling in a different style than his past women. She was more beautiful and materialistic. In the future, he planned to find a woman opposite of her.
His voice was incredibly cold and startled Sofia a great deal.
“I hate to be consumed in emotion. Thus, I don’t get mad. It is a waste and unpleasant to be filled with anger. If you continue to make me any more angry than I am now, you will need to pay for it. Up until now, all those who made me mad have paid for it with their lives.”
Sofia’s face drained of blood and paled as white as a sheet of paper.
“Don’t make me angry.”
Sofia’s lips trembled as she gazed at him with a pale face for a moment, then she turned and ran away with all her strength. He watched her disappearing figure with cold eyes, then fixed his attention to a certain spot.
“Come out. It’s time to stop eavesdropping like a thieving cat.”
– End of Chapter 2 –