As they arrived, it was evident that the guests had all taken the announcement seriously and made their way to the grand mansion ahead of time. The sight of all the lights illuminating the expansive estate was a spectacle to behold, reminiscent of a dazzling Christmas tree.
Canillia couldn’t hide her astonishment as she entered the grand entrance. The waiting butler offered his cane as she made her way inside with Claude, both of them walking with poise and confidence. The sparkling chandeliers, the rich red carpets, and the guest chairs that dotted the halls caught her eye and filled her with a sense of grandeur.
The bustling butlers who were hurrying to and fro, making last-minute preparations, pressed themselves against the walls to make way for the incoming guests. She could feel the curious gazes of those gathered and engaged in light-hearted conversations darting in her direction, but Canillia followed Claude’s advice to focus solely on walking forward and linked her arm with his, ignoring the noise around them.
Sighs of exasperation echoed from the crowd, as some whispered about Duke Ihar’s supposed descent into madness after his involvement in the war while others gossiped about that in the capital, he fell for sodomy with the illegitimate son of the Vale family. But most of the guests were captivated by Cannilia’s attire, curious about the woman who had arrived wearing pants, a daring fashion choice for the time.
“I wanted to take the level one exam for this reason,” she explained, climbing the stairs with confidence, aided by Claude.
“To obtain a noble title and raise my reputation even a little?”
“At least I won’t be a laughingstock,” she retorted.
“Getting a title doesn’t make everyone a noble. It’s just a facade. Perhaps…there is no real nobility.”
“Acquiring a title does not grant nobility to everyone. It is merely a pretense. In fact… there might not be any true nobility at all.”
Claude escorted her to the front of the house, where curious eyes followed them up to the second floor. Lia suppressed a laugh and offered him a curtsy. “Thank you for your kindness, sir.”
“At your service, milady,” he responded with a gallant manner and an audacious attitude.
As per the custom of nobility, they exchanged a textbook cheek kiss that grazed each other’s skin before pulling away.
Pepe, who had been waiting for her, opened the door to greet her as Canillia waved goodbye to Claude.
“We don’t have much time, miss!”
Without wasting any time, Pepe helped her undress and led her to the bathtub with a sponge and scented oil in hand. The other maids joined in, washing and scrubbing her hair, fingers, and toes.
Pepe looked at Canillia’s hair in dismay, her eyes scanning the tangled mess with a critical eye. “No, how did you manage to turn your hair into such a bird’s nest? I remember tying it up nicely for you before you left. It’s so tangled now,” she grumbled, her fingers deftly working through the knots with a thick comb.
Canillia watched her anxiously, biting her lower lip as she sat with her knees pulled up to her chest. “I know, but I liked it,” she admitted, her voice barely above a whisper.
Pepe raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “Liked it? Did that little girl from the convent tie it up for you?” she teased gently, a hint of amusement in her voice. Lia chuckled at Claude being called a little girl. “Well, don’t just pull your hair out like that. It’s too precious for that.”
Thankfully, Pepe’s gentle touch and expert hands quickly restored her hair to its former glory. “I don’t like it too ornate though. It’s hard to move and heavy,” Canillia murmured, studying her reflection in the mirror.
Pepe smiled indulgently, shaking her head in amusement. “But it’s my pleasure to adorn you, my dear. Please don’t take away my joy. Even with just a little bit, you look so beautiful,” she said softly, his eyes gleaming with pride.
With a gentle touch from Pepe, Lia’s body trembled and swayed in her corset, the delicate fabric of her pale yellow dress clinging to her curves. Her hair was woven into full, voluminous curls, cascading down her back like a waterfall of spun gold. Gone was the austere, nun-like appearance that had once defined her, replaced by the radiance of a newly blossomed flower.
As she gazed at her reflection in the mirror, Pepe stood by her side, her chest puffed out with pride, a satisfied smile on her face. Just then, a maid appeared, announcing that the Duke would be delayed in his arrival.
Canillia picked up the book she had left open last night, intending to read until Claude came. She knew that she would need to exert even more, and she was prepared to do whatever it took to achieve her goal. Though Claude had dismissed the notion of titles and vanity, Canillia knew that those who had never experienced the stigma of being a commoner could never truly understand. She was determined to silence the naysayers who had once sneered at her lack of pedigree.
In the middle of the book, Canillia discovered that the most important part had been torn out – a section about taxes.
“Why is this torn?” she muttered.
The maid who had gone outside returned and delivered the news. “Miss, the Duke needs a little more time.”
Seizing the opportunity, Canillia left with Pepe and walked down the quiet second-floor corridor to Claude’s study. If there were any books related to taxes, Claude’s study would surely have plenty of them.
After knocking on the door, she heard Owen’s voice from inside. “It’s Canillia.”
Liah opened the door, and Owen, who had been sitting in front of the fireplace, jumped up in surprise. The small table next to him tipped over, causing the teacup on top of it to shatter.
“Are you okay?” Canillia approached the pale Owen. He was holding a black leather box and seemed to be burning something inside it.
“I’m not hurt. But I’m curious why the young lady is here?” Owen’s voice trembled as he took a step back, avoiding eye contact with Lia. It was strange. He looked like someone caught doing something wrong, sweating profusely.
“I’m looking for a book related to taxes,” said Canillia, holding up the book she had brought with her and smiling.
Only then did Owen’s expression soften. “If it’s about taxes, it’s over here,” he said, placing the box he was holding near the fireplace and walking towards the bookshelf by his desk. He then skillfully pulled out a few books.
“These are related to taxes.”
As Owen turned around, his face turned pale. Canillia was standing in front of the fireplace, looking inside the box. Suddenly, she reached inside and pulled out a bundle of letters. Confused, she turned to Owen and asked, “What is this?”
“Why, I mean, how did these end up here?” Feeling lost, Lia looked at Owen with a worried expression and asked, “Please tell me, why are my letters here?”