< — I love you — > (2)
As Lucia was leaving the break room, she gently bumped into a woman who was entering and drew back slightly.
“What do you think you’re doing! How can you be so careless! Don’t you know who this is!”
A sharp, angry voice butted in. A noblewoman from who knows where, suddenly showed up and condemned the woman who had bumped into Lucia. Lucia didn’t remember the exact name, but she knew that the noblewoman was some Countess. There were a lot of Countesses, so it was easy to mix them up.
“I’m…I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.” (?)
“Oh my goodness! You got makeup on her dress! What are you going to do about this!” (Countess)
The Countess yelled as if the worst thing in the world had happened. Her shrill voice was very irritating. Lucia looked at the part of her shoulder where the Countess was furiously pointing to.
‘How did she even see this?’
Indeed, there was a little makeup stain, but it was very little. Lucia felt like she should at least acknowledge the sharp eyes of the Countess who was making a big deal out of nothing.
As Lucia looked at the woman who was bowing and apologizing repeatedly, her mind flew back to the person she was in her dream. The person back then was very clumsy, kept making mistakes and wished she could find a hole to breathe in. The extremely flustered woman in front of her seemed very pitiful. Lucia calmed the Countess who was in a rage beside her.
“I don’t wish to raise my voice in a nice occasion so that is enough. I am fine.” (Lucia)
“Ehem. How can you be so generous, Duchess? Your regard is as magnificent as your beauty.”
The Countess now began to heap praises on Lucia.
Lucia was learning the weariness of being surrounded by people these days.
“It is also my mistake for not checking in front of me. Are you alright?” (Lucia)
The woman who was fidgeting with her head bowed, flinched in surprise when she heard Lucia’s words.
“I…I am fine. I have committed…such an act of rudeness…to the Duchess…”
“It’s fine. Which family are you from? I don’t think I’ve seen you before.” (Lucia)
“I am…Alisa of the Count Matin family.”
Lucia’s heart lurched wildly. It was the current wife of Count Matin. Lucia remembered hearing the woman’s name in her dream. Alisa was the second wife of Count Matin whom he divorced before marrying Lucia. Lucia heard that after the divorce, Alisa left the capital and went to her parent’s home in the west. Therefore, Lucia had never seen her face before.
“…I see. I hope you enjoy the party.” (Lucia)
Lucia gave a slight nod in greeting and walked past her. She didn’t want to be connected to anything related to the Count of Matin. Even if it was the former wife who was another sacrificial lamb for that bastard.
‘So they haven’t gotten divorced yet.’
The Countess’ slouched shoulders and wooden expression that reflected distress were just like herself in the dream. While Lucia felt sympathy for the Countess, she also felt irritated by a strange sense of displeasure.
The Count of Matin had three sons from three different mothers. The youngest son, Bruno, was the son of the ex-wife who got divorced before Lucia became the Countess. Since Bruno was one year older than Damian, he was probably ten years old now.
[It’s the start of a long day, Countess.]
Bruno never called Lucia ‘mother’. He was a cheeky boy who called her Countess every single time without fail. However, Lucia didn’t hate the precocious boy whose eyes were filled with emptiness.
The other two sons of the Count were not that different in age from Lucia, so they ignored each other as if they were complete strangers. The only conversation they had was greeting each other. Unlike them, Bruno would have brief conversations with her when they crossed path sometimes. It was not the friendly sort of conversation. Bruno usually had a sarcastic tone unlike that of a child. But still, Bruno was the only person she talked to in the count residence.
[How did you get into this hell?]
Lucia only smiled weakly at the boy’s mocking words.
The boy stared at Lucia and said:
[My mother succeeded in running away. She threw away all her burdens and got to live very freely.]
The boy’s eyes were dreary. Lucia sensed that the boy included himself in the ‘burdens’ he mentioned.
[Do you want to see your mother?] (Lucia)
The boy’s silence was long. Nevertheless, his reply was short and firm.
One day, Bruno called Lucia when she returned home exhausted after attending a ball. It was late at night and the child should have been sleeping.
[Countess. Shall I let you in on an interesting secret?]
Bruno brought Lucia to an empty room that wasn’t very far from her bedroom. She probably wouldn’t have followed Bruno if he was slightly older but since Bruno was still young, she didn’t really have her guard up around him. She thought of him as the only human being in the count residence.
[I’m the only one that knows this secret but I’m letting Countess know specially.]
When she didn’t refuse, Bruno pushed himself into the dusty fireplace and manipulated something inside. And then the sound of something clattering could be heard followed by the fireplace slowly turning around to reveal a dark, gaping hole.
The boy seemed satisfied with the surprise on Lucia’s face and snickered like a mischievous child. He told her to follow him and entered inside. Lucia hesitated for a moment before following after him. Bruno lit up a torch and pulled down the stick hanging from the wall. The fireplace turned and closed, leaving the two of them alone in the secret space.
[I heard we’ve lived in this mansion since my great-grandfather. This place was probably made by the original owner of the mansion. No one in the family knows about this place.]
They walked along the narrow cavernous path and went down the subsequent stairs. They climbed down the stairs for quite a while. Then, a chamber with a wide and high ceiling emerged. It seemed like an underground chamber with no opening for light to enter but even though it was dim, there was no problem with identifying the surroundings. The walls of the chamber were filled with odd substances that gave off a faint light.
[They seem to be luminous substances, but I don’t know exactly what they are. It’s amazing, isn’t it? They must be very old, but they still glow. Perhaps a long time ago, they used to be as bright as daytime.]
There wasn’t much to see. The impressive view was short-lived.
[There is a path that leads out of here. I’ll show you that next time.]
There was no next time. Lucia never got to meet Bruno late at night again. And then, Bruno was driven to the Academy after rebelling against his father. The boy left, and Lucia was lonely for a while.
As time passed, her body and mind grew more exhausted and she loathed her circumstances. Every night, she prayed and begged to be taken away from here and break free of all her restraints. As she despaired over her unfulfilled prayer, she suddenly remembered the secret space that Bruno had showed to her.
‘Let’s run away. No one will take me away from here.’
Lucia chose a day to explore the secret space. She went down the stairway that continued from the fireplace and when she arrived at the chamber, she searched for the hidden passage that Bruno had talked about. After looking everywhere, she found a device similar to that of the fireplace. Beyond the hidden door was a dark and narrow tunnel.
Lucia walked along the path. According to Bruno, this place was built a long time, but the stone walls of the tunnel looked very strong. After walking for about two hours, she found herself in a cemetery outside the capital.
To Lucia, this place was a light in the darkness. She gathered money to buy jewelry and prepared assets for herself without anyone’s knowledge. In order for her to stay in hiding for a while, she took some dry rations and piled them up in the chamber. There was a small underground well in the chamber, so she didn’t need to worry about water. She continued to make preparations for over a year.
It happened on one particular night when sleep refused to come. Lucia suffered from insomnia even though she was usually physically tired. After tossing and turning on the bed, she got up and went to the balcony because she couldn’t sleep
As she absentmindedly stared into the darkness before her, she noticed a crowd of torches flocking towards the mansion. Her heart sank with a thud and the hairs on her neck rose with dread. Her senses were telling her that something dangerous had taken place. Lucia immediately gathered all her jewelry in a jewelry box and went into the secret space.
That day was the day when the Count Matin family was exterminated.
Lucia spent her time in the chamber, hiding in fear. She had no way of knowing what was happening outside while she was hidden in the dim, tranquil underground chamber. She suppressed the side of her that wanted to go up in curiosity and remained hidden as if she were dead.
Even though she couldn’t hear any noise from above while she was underground, she suppressed her footsteps too. She couldn’t even tell the passage of time. If she was hungry, she ate; if she was sleepy, she slept. She had a rough estimate of time by watching the rations shrink.
Lucia endured time in the dark chamber, dreadfully alone. The worst thing was the growing number of rats because of the food. When she remembered the nauseating face of Count Matin, she endured. Compared to him, the rats were adorable.
However, there was a limit to her endurance. After a month, she couldn’t bear walking up to the sound of squeaking rats any more. She prepared herself to go out.
She remembered hearing that coming into the sunlight after being in the dark for a long time could blind the eyes. For a week, she took the long tunnel and made round-trips to the public cemetery to familiarize her eyes with the sunlight leaking from the entrance. And finally, Lucia went out.