Side story – A Mysterious Young Mistress
I remember my first meeting with the young mistress.
It had only been a few months since the attack on the Whiteheart household when I joined them. With the lord and his son still nowhere to be found, the lord’s younger brother was temporarily bestowed with the title of Marquis of Eskor. The investigation kept going but as the months passed, people slowly stopped hoping for the lord’s return and the investigation efforts dropped. Commoners like me had no real interest in the nobles’ affairs. The assassination attempt merely served as a new subject of gossip, but without any real progress in the investigation, people quickly lost interest in it. While this case was never officially closed, it soon became completely forgotten by the general population.
As a lot of servants were killed during the attack, when things finally calmed down, the Marquis hired new employees. I was one of them. I was never familiar with high nobility, but when the opportunity to work for such an esteemed house came to me, I took it without a second thought.
The Marquis was always busy. Strangely enough, his family never moved in. In nobility, only the heir was allowed to stay in the main residence. Once they reached the age of seven, the other sons either joined an order of knighthood or were left in the care of a branch family as an apprentice. In either case, they permanently left the house once they got married. Perhaps it was because he expected his older brother and his son to return anytime, but even after he became the new head of the house, the Marquis’ family never moved in with him. For us, employees, it was only beneficial. With less nobles in the residence to look after, the life in the Whiteheart household as a servant was not so bad. The working conditions were good and the income was high. The only downsides were the occasional whims of the lord’s younger sister, Lady Nora. But it wasn’t my first time working with nobles, so overall, this job was pretty peaceful. However, with no family to support or to return to during days off, my life at the Whiteheart estate was also pretty dull and boring. But it all changed when the young mistress arrived.
It was twelve years ago.
Although it was a summer day, the weather wasn’t particularly good. The morning had been sunny, but in the afternoon, a thick layer of clouds suddenly appeared, scattering showers in the capital in a rumbling thunder. An ominous sign. After leaving the estate for a couple of months, the Marquis and the Lady had finally returned. But they hadn’t returned alone. I was on kitchen duty that day, so I didn’t see the carriage arrive, but it didn’t take long for the news to spread around the estate.
“Guys! Guys! They’re here!” A valet suddenly barged in the kitchen.
At his announcement, several servants sighed.
“Looks like the peaceful days are over…”
“We can’t slack off anymore, huh?”
“I just hope the Lady is in a good mood.”
The head cook loudly cleared his throat.
“Alright, alright! This does not change anything for us. Keep working!” He ordered before turning his attention to the valet. “And you, don’t you have anything better to do than disturbing my kitchen?”
“You’ll never guess who’s back!” The valet declared, ignoring the head cook’s remark.
“What? The Lord and the Lady, obviously.”
“The young master!”
Silence fell upon the room as we all exchanged doubtful gazes.
“The young master… Is he talking about the young master Aoban?”
“It can’t be…”
“Didn’t he die during the attack on the mansion two years ago?”
“It’s true!” The valet insisted. “I saw it with my own two eyes! He grew quite a bit, but it was definitely him!”
The news caused a sudden commotion in the kitchen. Even the head cook stopped working to join the gossip. The lost heir had been found. Not only the Marquis returned safely from his business trip, but he also returned with the heir.
“T-Then! Does that mean Lord Lloyd is also back?” Someone abruptly asked.
“Ah, no.” The valet replied with a much quieter voice than before. “They only found the young master. There is still no news about Lord Lloyd.”
The enthusiastic ambiance suddenly died at his answer.
“Oh… Then he’s still missing.”
“He’s probably dead already, isn’t he?”
“Ah, but! That’s not it!” The valet then exclaimed with an eager voice, trying to bounce back from the heavy mood. “That woman has also returned! The elven slave!”
A new commotion arose in the kitchen. This time, people exchanged looks of disbelief and soon started to voice their discontentment.
“For real? Then the young master was with her all this time?”
“Did she kidnap him?”
“After everything the Lord did for her…”
“She has some guts to come back.”
A little confused by the sudden protest, I leaned forward to whisper in the ears of a fellow maid. I hadn’t been here for too long, but as far as I knew, there shouldn’t have been an elven slave here.
“Hey, what is this all about?” I asked.
“Oh, right, you’re new Ivy so you probably don’t know.” She replied as she glanced back at me. “Well, there used to be an elven slave here. It was said that she was in an intimate relationship with Lord Lloyd.”
I guess those kind of things happen quite frequently among noble houses.
“Yeah, and ultimately she disappeared during that incident two years ago,” she added. “Along with the young master and the Lord.”
“Guys!” The loud voice of the valet called us out. “That’s not it!”
“There’s still more?!”
A confident smile drew on his face as we were all eager to hear what he had to add.
“She returned with another child! A half! Apparently, she’s Lord Lloyd’s daughter!”
A brief silence settled in as we were all doubting what we just heard.
“U-uh… That’s a joke, right?”
A half. There was a lot of rumors circulating about them. None of them were positive. Deformed and ugly, most halves did not make it to adulthood. They were a symbol of aberration. A deviancy that needed to be corrected. Thus, they were considered an ominous sign. Thinking about it, I then remembered the sudden thunder of this afternoon. An ominous sign. A feeling of uneasiness grew in my heart, and I could tell we all felt the same.
“They’re not… planing to keep it here, right?”
“There is no way! Wouldn’t that bring the fall of the house?”
“You might as well condemn us all right now!”
As all the eyes turned to the valet, expecting an answer, he brought his palm to his neck and adverted his gaze.
“Well, the thing is… She’s also a Chosen One,” he tried to explain.
“Oh, and by the way, the Lady is also bald now.”
A few days had passed since the Marquis and the Lady returned and that half was still the main subject of all our gossips. Since then, it had been confirmed that she was indeed Lord Lloyd’s daughter so the Marquis personally ordered that she should be treated as such. A half as a young mistress. What a joke. At least, this is what we all thought. Nevertheless, that was the lord’s order and we were only employees so we had to comply.
It was the beginning of the week, still early in the morning. All the employees had been gathered in the servants’ quarters to receive our schedule for the week. I had been on kitchen duty the past week so I would most likely change department this time. I was only hoping not to find myself with the Lady. I unfolded the paper that had been handed to me holding onto that hope, but I soon found myself sighing in disappointment.
Those who had heard me looked at me, full of sympathy. Some even muttered words of encouragements.
“May the Goddess be with you.”
They all knew I was going to suffer this week. But as I was starting to think that I was the unluckiest of the servants, the cries of another maid soon retorted that idea.
“Noooo!! I don’t want to! Why me?!”
“Come on Tia, it’s just for a week.”
Tia was one of the maids who joined the household at the same time as me. She was usually always high in spirits, but this time, she was collapsed on the ground, shaking her head in denial.
“What is it?” I asked while approaching to comfort her.
“She was assigned to the half-breed,” a fellow maid explained.
Tia looked up at me with teary eyes.
“W-What about you, Ivy?” She asked with a small voice. “Where were you assigned to?”
“Uhm… To Lady Nora’s chambers.”
Tia suddenly pounced on me to grab my clothes.
“Switch with me!!” She demanded with an almost threatening tone. “Please!”
“I-I just told you I was assigned to Lady Nora’s chambers!” I responded a little confused, as I never saw anyone so eager to serve the Lady.
“Yes, I heard! I’d rather serve that witch than the half-breed!”
In a swift movement, I put my hand over her mouth to shut her up.
“Keep your voice down!” I cautioned her. “What if someone heard you? Do you want to be whipped?!”
Around us, a few servants gave her understanding looks. No one liked the Lady, but no one was also brave enough to defame her openly like that. While most employees would not report that, with the ever-present temptation of earning the Lady’s favors, the solidarity between servants remained poised on a knife-edge.
“B-but…!” She managed to mutter through my hand. “I don’t want to serve that half!”
Tia collapsed again on the floor in a dramatic fall, sobbing.
“Don’t you know? Halves carry all sorts of disease!” She lamented. “What if I catch something?!”
“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” I tried to comfort her. “It’s just for a week!”
“Switch with me!” She asked once again.
While I understood her fears, I didn’t want to catch something either. But as I adverted my gaze, she became even more insistent.
“I’m begging you, Ivy! I’m getting married in three weeks, I can’t die before that!”
I don’t want to die either!
“I’ll give you all my days off!”
“I’ll cover for you whenever you want to!”
“I’ll massage your shoulders!!”
Ultimately, I accepted. I didn’t want to and I wasn’t really interesting in what she had to offer, but I always had issues when it comes to refusing favors. Moreover, I’m weak to sobbing maidens -although I’m sure Tia is aware of that and took advantage of it.
So here I was, one hour later, standing in front of the door of this infamous ‘young mistress’.
Despite being reluctant to enter, the fact that I would only be on morning duties already cheered me up a little. I only had to wake her up, make the bed, dress her and feed her breakfast. And that was it. Other maids would take over for the rest of the day while I would return to my own duties.
‘May the Goddess protect me.’
I took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
“Young mistress, it’s morning!" I loudly exclaimed to announce my presence. “I’m coming in!”
Gathering my courage, I opened the door and entered the room.
The first thing I noticed was that the young mistress was nowhere to be seen. It was only seven in the morning, yet, the bed was empty. And not only it was empty, but it was also all made -although a bit unevenly.
And then I saw her.
As I started to survey my surroundings, my eyes fell upon a small child, standing by the window.
She was nothing like I expected her to be. In fact, she was the opposite of everything I expected her to be. Who said halves were monstrous? She was the most beautiful child I had ever seen. Pretty, lovely, angelic, but above all, surreal. I still don’t know what struck me the most. Was it her doll-like face? Or maybe her stunning golden eyes. She was too perfect. She simply didn’t seem human. For a moment, I thought that it couldn’t be her, that I had the wrong room. But as I lost myself in her gaze, I remembered the valet saying that she was a Chosen One. Those golden eyes were the very proof of that. It was really her. At least, it didn’t seem like she was carrying any disease. In fact, she seemed quite healthy. Maybe it was because of the Goddess’ blessings? In any cases, that was a relief.
As I realized that I was staring at her for a while now, I came back to my senses and cleared my voice.
“Good morning young mistress! My name is Ivy, I’ll be taking care on you every morning this week,” I introduced myself with the friendliest possible smile.
I didn’t expect to receive an answer from such a young child, but I was at least expecting some kind of reaction. Yet, she didn’t move at all. She was just silently staring at me -assessing me.
“I see that you are already awake, and… all dressed.” I finally noticed.”W-Well then, I’ll return with your breakfast.”
With still no reaction from the toddler, I politely lowered my head as I exited the room. Did someone already come? It was only seven in the morning, yet, the young mistress was already up. Then again, she was only two. At that age, children have lighter sleep in the early morning hours, so it wouldn’t be surprising if she had woken up on her own. But since she was all dressed up and since the bed was made, I’m guessing that another maid came by to do my job. But then again… Looking at how messily the bed was made, it’s hard to think that this is the work of a maid.
I stopped by the kitchen to retrieve the young mistress’ meal. There were cereal dishes, a serving of grapes and some peanut butter toasts. I could tell those were some of the leftovers of yesterday’s breakfast. I wasn’t sure these were appropriate for a toddler to eat, but that wasn’t up for me to decide, so I simply put the plates on a trolley. From my point of view, it was still a generous meal.
“Young mistress, this is Ivy,” I announced through the door upon returning. Since once again, I received no answer, I entered the bedroom, pushing the laden trolley in.
The young mistress hadn’t moved. She was still standing at the same place I left her a few moments ago. As I was starting to think that maybe she was a doll after all, the young mistress came to sit at the table, patiently waiting for me to unload the trolley. And once the plates were all neatly displayed in front of her, she started eating. All by herself.
Confused, I blinked several times to make sure I didn’t see it wrong. I thought she was quite well behaved to come to sit at the table on her own when she saw me bringing her her breakfast, but I definitely didn’t expect her to eat by herself. I had taken care of toddlers before, but I had never seen one feed themselves. Not like that. Most of the time, they would just dig in their meal with their bare hands, and the times they had been taught to eat with a spoon, it would get messy in a hurry. Yet, the young mistress was not only sitting, but also eating properly. Actually, she was even better behaved than the young master, even though the young master was four years older and received a strict education as the heir of the house. Maybe… it’s because she’s a Chosen One?
Once she was done, she simply looked up at me. She didn’t leave the table until I was done reloading the trolley.
The following days, the same things happened. Each time I went to wake her up, she already up, dressed, and the bed was made. And when I brought her her breakfast, she ate by herself. Ultimately, I was forced to realize something: no one came in before me. To begin with, no one wanted to -she was a half after all. No, the young mistress woke up on her own. She dressed and made her bed all by herself. While the idea would have never crossed my mind before, ever since I witnessed her table manners, it didn’t seem that far-fetched anymore. She was a Chosen One after all. The Goddess’ blessings probably made her brighter than other children.
“So, how are you holding up?” Tia asked.
We were currently in the servants’ hall, where most of the staff was congregated for mealtime. It was already way past noon, since we needed to wait for the masters to finish their meals to have our own, so the hall was already quite noisy as we all eagerly dug in our plates, exchanging gossips.
“I don’t know,” I responded, shrugging. “It’s alright, I guess.”
“Really?” She creased her brows. “That’s not what I heard.”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you know about Camille?” She asked.
“She’s the one assigned to the half-breed in the afternoon,” Tia explained. “From what she told me, there is definitely something wrong with that brat.”
I raised an eyebrow in incomprehension.
“Once, she came to find the room wet.”
The corner of my lips slightly curled into a wry smile as I sighed.
“She’s a toddler. She can wet the bed once in a while.”
“No, no, no,” Tia shook her head. “I’m not only talking about the sheets of the bed. I mean the entire room! Even the floor was flooded! Camille said she spent the entire afternoon cleaning up.”
As I narrowed my eyes, full of doubt, Tia continued.
“Another time, she found soil on the floor. Like actual soil. Except that nobody but the maids come inside the room, and the half-breed doesn’t go outside.”
“So what, it just appeared out of nowhere?” I joked.
“That’s why it’s weird!” Tia exclaimed. “And yesterday, she found the window glass cracked. No apparent reason either! There was no strong winds yesterday, and no other windows but this one was cracked. That half-breed is cursed, I’m telling you.”
‘Cursed? A blessed child?’ The wry smile on my face grew wider at this thought.
At that moment, someone sank in the seat next to me. It was Camille, her face drained of all its energy.
“I want to quit,” she complained as she let her head drop on the table.
“Don’t say that,” I tried to cheer her up. “You won’t find a better job. It’ll be over in a week anyway.”
“You look awful,” Tia then commented, her eyes full of pity. “Did you catch something?”
“Ugh, don’t say that,” Camille groaned. “I’ve been praying the Goddess every morning and every evening.”
“How zealous of you.”
Camille did not miss the sarcastic tone in Tia’s voice, but before she could retort anything, a fight broke out between two butlers at the next table.
“Well, if we can’t even eat in peace now…”
Ignoring Camille’s remark, I turned in the direction of the brawl. A couple of other servants had rushed in to separate the two butlers.
“What’s the commotion about?”
“They’re arguing about the half,” a valet next to us answered.
“How surprising,” Tia sneered with the same sarcastic tone. “Nowadays, it’s always about the half-breed anyway.”
“What about the young mistress?” I questioned.
The valet sighed loudly. “Well, Paul keeps saying that the half might not actually be Lord Lloyd’s daughter, and Orlo didn’t like that so…”
My brows furrowed at his explanation.
“That’s… A dangerous rumor he is spreading there,” I noted.
“Well, I agree with him,” Camille suddenly spoke up.
I turned my attention to her, my eyes budging.
“Why would you say that?” Tia asked, seemingly as surprised as me.
“I mean, have you seen that half?” Camille responded with a contemptuous voice. “She looks nothing like Lord Lloyd!”
Tia glanced at me, clearly expecting me to say something. She never had the occasion to meet the young mistress yet.
“Well, I don’t know,” I said, my gaze wandering on the floor. “I’ve never met Lord Lloyd before so I wouldn’t be able to tell, but…”
But I have met the young master. And it’s true that his sister doesn’t look like him at all. Even if they are only half related, there should be some kind of similarity, right? This had never crossed my mind before.
“What about you?” Camille asked, addressing the valet next to us. “You knew the Lord. And you’ve met the half. What do you think?”
The valet didn’t answer. The grimace on his face spoke for himself.
Could it be really possible?
I turned around in the direction of the two butlers, now full of doubt. They were still arguing.
“That half is a bastard of unknown origin, I tell you!” Paul was shouting, trying to free himself from the grasp of other servants holding him back. “There is no way she is the Lord’s daughter!”
“Watch what you’re saying!” Orlo rebuked. “This is an insult toward Lord Lloyd! Are you trying to shame this house?”
“Shame? Me? Accepting an unknown bastard is what is shaming this house! Look at me in the eyes and tell me that you are a hundred percent sure that the blood running in her veins is the blood of the Whitehearts!”
Orlo’s eyes twitched as he ground his teeth. After all, no one could be sure about that.
“Lord Lloyd was an upright and respectable man!” Paul continued. “He would have never fallen as low as fathering a half-breed!”
“This half-breed is your young mistress”, Orlo reminded bitterly. “The Marquis himself announced her as Lord Lloyd’s daughter. Are you questioning his assessment?”
“I’m saying that god damn elf is trying to fool us all! Can’t you see that? She disappeared with the young master two years ago and now she’s trying to bring an unknown bastard into this noble house!”
As Paul kept slandering the young mistress and her mother, doubt arose among the servants in the hall.
“He has a point, doesn’t he?”
“It’s not impossible…”
“It’s true that she doesn’t look like Lord Lloyd at all…”
“Silence!” Orlo ordered. “This is your young mistress you are doubting! The Lord’s flesh and blood! And you guys call yourselves servants of this noble household?”
“I serve the Whitehearts, this bloody half is not my young mistress,” Paul groaned. “In the Goddess’ name, who knows where she comes from! Her father could be anyone! That god damn elf already seduced the Lord, do you really think she stopped there? She even fooled the Marquis into accepting that bastard into the house! Who knows, she might even go after him this time!”
Before Orlo could retort anything, the dispute was interrupted as the doors of the hall opened and someone entered.
It was a young woman. An elf. And although I had never seen her before, I could immediately tell who she was. There was only one elf around here after all, and seeing a couple of servants gasping at her sight only confirmed my assumptions. The young mistress’ mother. I had never seen an elf before, but now I could tell that the rumors were true. Elves are surely breathtaking. She was definitely the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Even as a female, I could feel the blood slowly running into my cheeks watching her. It’s no wonder the previous Lord fell for her.
I think I can understand where Paul is coming from, now. I’ve never seen the previous Lord, but according to the others, the young mistress does not look like him at all. And now that I see her, I can tell that she doesn’t really look like her mother either. With a child taking after neither parent, it’s no wonder such rumors arose. Then again, the young mistress is still very young. Maybe once she grows up, she’ll be more similar to her parents.
The mighty fuss in the room died down at the elf’s arrival, replaced by a deadly silence. For a few seconds, the young woman’s eyes met Paul’s, who was just dissing her a few moments ago. But she immediately broke the the eye contact as she adverted her gaze.
“I’m looking for Mairin,” she said with a monotone voice.
“Umh… Mairin is not here,” someone hesitantly responded in the crowd.
“I see. If she comes by, tell her that the Lady is looking for her.”
Without waiting for an answer, the young elf turned back, retracing her steps, and left as swiftly as she arrived. Upon her departure, a restless feeling grew in the hall.
“Hey… Isn’t it bad?”
“Do you think she heard?”
“There is no way she didn’t!”
As all the eyes turned to Paul, who was just as startled as anyone by the young elf’s appearance, he regained his composure.
“S-So what?” He declared after clearing his voice. “If she heard and didn’t even try to defend herself, isn’t it the proof that I’m right?”
This time, he didn’t sound too convincing. But everything he said before made sense -at least, enough sense to rise the doubt among the servants in the estate.
The commotion that day didn’t last long after that as the head butler soon arrived to announce the end of the break, but it remained in everyone’s head.
The following days, unable to forget what Paul said, I found myself acting more distant and more awkwardly around the young mistress. I was perfectly aware of it, but I couldn’t help it. The past few days passed in a flash, and surprisingly, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. But now, I was growing uncomfortable again.
I had very little interactions with the young mistress to begin with. She never talked. Servants aren’t supposed to talk in the presence of their masters unless they are solicited, but normally, with children, it’s different. Because of their need for attention, the servants would always converse with them. The young master was especially very talkative. But with the young mistress, there was no such a thing. It seemed that she simply didn’t want any form of attention, which did not help in bounding with her.
Such a weird child… I can’t wait for the week to finish and be reassigned somewhere else.
As usual, I silently observed the young mistress eating. She never finished her plates -the servings were too much for a child her age after all- but I was starting to grasp her appetite, so I could tell she was almost done. However, this time, before she finished, I was startled by a little voice.
“You don’t have to stay,” the young mistress said without even looking up. “I can eat alone.”
Uh… HUH?! D-Did she just dismiss me?!
I can’t believe it. This is my first time hearing her voice and the first thing she’s telling me is basically “Go away”? W-Why? Does she not like me? What did I do wrong?!
At that moment, I suddenly realized.
‘Such a weird child…’
My own hypocrisy.
‘I can’t wait for the week to finish and be reassigned somewhere else.’
It doesn’t matter how professional I am. It doesn’t matter how many fake smile I wear. A child would be able to tell.
‘What did I do wrong?”
‘Does she not like me?’
Of course not. Not with the way I treated her.
‘Why won’t she open up to me?’
Because I won’t open up to her. I was the first one to put a distance between us.
It hit me hard. Just how awful must I have been for a two-years old to reject me? The worst about it was that it was my own selfishness that made me realize it. I’ve been distant with the young mistress ever since I met her -no, even before then. Yet, being rejected by her hurt my pride.
Thinking about it, the young mistress never did anything wrong. She was always well-behaved. Even when I treated her coldly, she never said anything.
The young mistress may be a half, she may be a bastard, but ultimately, isn’t she just a child?
I suddenly felt embarrassed by my own behavior. How immature.
I’ve always wondered why the Goddess never blessed me with children. Now I know. It’s because I’m not worthy of it. How can someone who can’t even treat an innocent toddler properly deserve to be a mother?
How awful must it have been for that poor child. I’m probably not the only one treating her that way. With the entire world giving her the cold shoulder, of course she would become reserved. Of course she would never talk. It’s not that she is brighter because she’s a Chosen One, she was simply forced to mature prematurely because of her hostile environment. A two years-old should be lively, always playing, and yet…
A sudden flow of emotions rose in my heart. And a new resolution.
As I showed no signs of leaving, the young mistress looked up at me. So I gently smiled at her, and this time, it was a genuine smile. Not a forced smile, not a professional smile, simply the smile an adult should have toward a child. And for the first time, the indifferent look on the young mistress’ face changed. Her mouth remained an uncharacteristic grim line, but her bright eyes widened in surprise. The eye-contact did not last, as she lowered her head, resuming her meal at a faster pace, but I could see her reddened ears.
So the young mistress is shy. I chuckled.
“What?” She muttered.
“Nothing.” I responded. “I’ll wait until you finish to leave.”
“Today is a good day, isn’t it?”
“And the weather is quite nice too! It’s been a long time we hadn’t had such a sunny day!”
This time, the young mistress did not respond. But I kept talking anyway. It doesn’t matter if she fall silent. If I open up to her, surely, one day she will do the same.
It was the beginning of a new week, and as always, all employees were gathered in the servants’ quarters.
A new week, in other words, new assignments.
“So this time I’m on laundry duty, huh?”
Thinking back of the past week, a faint smile played on my lips.
‘Oh well, another time I guess.’
As I was preparing myself to get to work, I passed by a maid lamenting her plight.
“Ugh… This time it’s me?”
“Don’t worry, you’ll survive. The others did. It’s just a half anyway!”
Picking up the word “half”, I stopped halfway, my eyes locked on the maid. She was kneeling on the floor, devoid of any motivation, sobbing. She reminded me of Tia, last week, when she was first assigned to the young mistress. I silently chuckled at this sight. I didn’t blame her for being apprehensive. I was too. It couldn’t be helped, considering halves’ bad -but unfounded- reputation. However, I did pity her. After all, at this rate, she was never going to find out how lovely the young mistress can be.
A broad smile on my face, I approached from behind and patted the maid’s shoulder.
I slightly bent forward, holding up the paper showing my assignments for this week at her eye level.
“Do you want to switch with me?”