Everything had come to a standstill after that, and Matthias took a deep breath, unknowingly glaring at his attendant for whatever unpleasant news he was about to impart.
Matthias could feel the uncomfortable churning growing in his gut, and wondered if this was it? This was what’s been bothering him since he left Arvis.
"What call? What happened?" He immediately demanded, while Evers stammered through his words, "Just say it, Evers!" He commanded impatiently, and the man flinched at his raised tone, and bowed his head even further, but spoke in a clear and loud voice.
"They had just discovered that Bill Remmer, and Leyla Lewellin had gone missing in Arvis," He began, "It seemed both of them had run away, my Lord."
Silence came after his words; you could hear a pin drop with the tension in the room.
Meanwhile, hidden from Matthias’ view, Claudine made a herculean effort not to show the pleasing smile threatening to reveal itself from hearing the news. Claudine stared at Matthias’ back, who remained unmoving.
"No one realized it, until they stopped by their cabin, and found they were gone along with some of their belongings. It seemed they’d left sometime last night." Evers regrettably finished.
"What an ingrate!" suddenly exclaimed by Elysee after a few more moments of silence, "After all we’ve done for them-!" her words were cut off abruptly when she realized the funny looks the Brandts were giving them, and felt embarrassed.
To have a servant run away from you! That was utterly embarrassing! She thought of the nasty rumors this would incur! Elysee was no stranger in using rumors to undermine a powerful family.
This could be the beginning of many conspiracies against them!
"Oh how awful of them to do so, for sure, Duchess Elysee!" Claudine quickly joined in, to show support for her soon-to-be-mother-in-law, "What could have possessed them to do such an insult to your great family!?"
She looked convincingly worried at her fiance, her body shaking with what they perceived to be hidden rage…
But it was hidden excitement instead.
So her letter had arrived safely in the old gardener’s hand. She hadn’t been sure how it had gone, but fortunately it went better than she expected!
"This seemed to be more urgent, my Duke," Claudine began, looking at him, and then to their companions, "We must postpone discussions of our wedding, and let the Herhardts settle their affairs before imposing on them." She told her parents.
‘Well done, Leyla,’ Claudine praised in her mind, ‘I couldn’t have asked for a better performance!’
Claudine looked back at the Duke, and took note of his prolonged silence. While the two duchesses were hurt and confused by these sudden actions, Matthias remained outwardly indifferent to the news…
But Claudine could feel it in the air.
Finally, she had caused something to affect the great and powerful Duke of Arvis. She couldn’t help but excitedly think about what he would do next? To what actions would he limit himself to?
How far would he go for her?
"It seems I must apologize," Matthias interrupted the furious chatter and turned to them, looking positively unaffected, "I seemed to have overlooked a few matters in regards to our own household. I hope you’ll understand my absence." He informed them.
To anyone else there, he was unshaken by the news, but Claudine had seen his hands shake as he fixed the buttons on his coat. And she mentally applauded Leyla for a job well done indeed!
She might even be more inclined to forgive Leyla for the humiliation she’d experienced with their affair.
At last, this untouchable man that would be her husband, had something taken from him. At last, he now knew the pain of not getting what he wanted most of all.
What a fitting end to the story of the Duke and his favored peasant.
They had crossed borders way into the night. As Leyla looked outside her window, she could see the fading outline of scenic views. Despite the darkness blanketing the outside landscapes, she could see it vividly.
It was so reminiscent of the times she boarded the train by herself in her youth. It had been a strange feeling then, going into a peculiar company all alone by train.
Just as she did back then, she sucked in a deep breath, holding it in as long as she could, before releasing it slowly outside her airways in an attempt to calm down her beating heart.
When the train passed through another tunnel, for a split second, she saw herself again, but not her current self, but the lost little girl she remembered seeing back then as she rode into Arvis.
Once the train completely passed the tunnel, and back into open air, her reflection reverted back to her current image.
She couldn’t help but chuckle mirthlessly to herself. That wide-eyed look on her face in her youth was replaced by a haunted look by a war veteran.
But Leyla was no soldier, nor a veteran. She was simply tired, and numb.
Something in her felt empty in leaving Arvis just like this.
"Focus on me, Leyla." she faintly heard, "That’s a good girl." Her uncle cooed comfortingly at her. She looked at him with a mix of surprise and confusion. She had thought he’d been asleep.
A warm, and coarse cloth came to dab gently on her cheeks. Had she been crying?
"We’ve still a long journey ahead of us, but I guess you’d know it better than I." He smiled at her sadly, "It is after all, your hometown." He finished softly.
Leyla’s eyes widened, before she smiled at him gratefully. She could see he was exhausted by their quick escape from Arvis, yet still, here he was, making sure she was okay.
But at least, boarding the train didn’t leave her with a deafening silence. It helped in drowning her thoughts out by the loud hollering of the train’s chimneys, the rattling wheels beneath them, and other snoring and well-rested passengers.
Uncle Bill helped her adjust her blanket comfily around her shoulders, lightly tapping her rhythmically as she nestled in her seat, before closing her eyes. She could hear him quietly humming a soothing lullaby he used to sing to her when she’d wake up with nightmares…
She wanted this moment to last.
When he’d first brought up going to Lovita, Leyla had doubted he would go through with the plan. But he moved quicker than she anticipated, and suddenly, they were both ready to leave.
She didn’t expect to leave so quickly.
When night fell on Arvis, he immediately carted her around, bringing a sparse number of their belongings and snuck out in the cover of darkness, away from prying eyes. Leyla only brought with her the meager savings she put aside, before they were off to a train, with a bag of their things and the clothes on their back.
He’d explained to her quietly on the way about his distant relative. They lived in the southern end of Lovita, and while they only shared a name between them, they had been willing to help them keep a low profile, and settle down eventually.
Even the stinging in her chest felt a little muted at that.
"I’m sorry, uncle." Leyla apologized, finding no sleep despite knowing Arvis was miles away, and she had nothing left to care for in it. She looked at her uncle in the eyes, and felt a familiar sting growing in her eyes, but her expression remained blank…
"If I hadn’t come to Arvis…"
"Hush now," Bill interrupted quietly, patting her by the shoulder rhythmically still, and tucked her further into the nook of his neck, half cradling her torso like he would a small child. "I don’t want to hear those words, not from you, most of all." Her uncle continued to tell her.
His eyes held a scary determination, but there was an abundant love and care for her underneath it all.
"It was with you, I found a new meaning to my life, a new purpose. So don’t say sorry," he uncle reassured her, "For I’m not sorry having met the most precious person in my life." He smiled at her, and patted her on the head placatingly.
Unlike the Duke’s, her uncle’s touch didn’t send uncomfortable tingles all over her body, but a rush of warmth and security. She could feel the honesty in his words.
He didn’t regret having her in his life.
Because before he had been in charge of Leyla, Bill had been content in his mediocre lifestyle. Only ever going through the motions of his chores and work, idle chatter with his companions here and there…
But once the child came around, he never realized just how dull his life had been before. It had been peaceful before she came around, and his life got harder trying to support him and a growing girl’s needs…
But he wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. Not when he’d experienced a surreal sense of fulfillment and purpose in taking care of her all these years. Not when he realized how wonderful it was, to help rear something wonderful into the world…
"So don’t worry about anything more, my dear," He whispered against the head of hair tucked beneath his chin, "We’ll get through this, together, as we always do." He planted a reassuring kiss on the top of her head, before meeting her eyes.
Leyla felt her eyes water, at the pure affection she could see in her uncle’s eyes. She might be crying, but for the first time, in a long time, a comforting warmth was beginning to seep through her heart…
Spreading out in a safe blanket all around her.
They would be fine. She had to believe that. They were still together after all.
The night fell deeper around them, and soon, Leyla could feel the sleep calling out to her like a warm embrace. Uncle Bill had fallen asleep not long after he reassured her, but Leyla stayed awake a little longer, still basking in its peacefulness.
She untucked herself from the thick blanket, opening up a side, and laying it over her uncle’s shoulders as well, sharing the blanket between the two of them. She snuggled back in his half embrace and tucked herself comfortably by the crook of his neck, half laying on his shoulder.
And when she closed her eyes, she promised never to look back again.
They had escaped through the night. That was the only explanation anyone could come up with ever since they discovered the missing esteemed gardener of Arvis and his foster daughter.
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"Have you gone by the school?" Hessen urgently inquired as soon as Mark Evers entered the butler’s small office space. His subordinate’s expression was grim and serious, before nodding in response.
"I spoke with the principal," Mark began, "But even she had been shocked to hear Ms. Lewellin’s disappearance. Aside from Leyla resigning from her post, for the next school year, she doesn’t know anything else." He finished.
"That’s unfortunate," Hessen hummed, "And what about Mr. Remmer’s relatives? Anyone he could be visiting?"
"No," Mark shook his head despondently, "His brother, his last living relative, passed away roughly two years ago. No one else has been listed as his relative, nor anyone he could be affiliated with outside of Arvis."
"This is a mess." Hessen sighed, rubbing his temples in a way to stave off an impending headache.
When they’d given word of the two’s disappearance, he half expected how quickly the Duke of Arvis returned. He just hadn’t anticipated he would be arriving within the night, ready and geared in to launch a full-blown hunt and investigation as to where they could have gone.
Those were his master’s words. And while relayed calmly and in a monotone voice, Hessen could see the hidden threat behind his master’s eyes if they were to fail in this task.
It sent shivers down the seasoned butler’s spine.
He half wished their master would openly lash out instead. At least it would be simpler to clean up broken furniture or things, and replace them, than trying to appease the hidden dragon he knows is threatening to burst within his master.
Even now, the Duke of Arvis remained cool and unphased, but Hessen could feel how different, and much colder he’d become.
"But the Duke seemed to have calmed down by now, perhaps he’d finally given up?" Mark asked him rather hopefully, but before Hessen could even respond, the bell rang sharply in the butler’s office…
The Duke was summoning him.
Matthias woke up normally the days after Leyla disappeared. He went on as he normally would even when she had been around. Still the picture-perfect Duke of Arvis.
He’d gotten up early as he normally did, read the morning paper as usual, and ate his simple, yet expertly cooked and planned breakfast. After that, he got ready for work, and wasted not a second more.
He went on receiving reports and meeting with prominent business partners. He’d met with concerned directors, and offered expert solutions. He even attended afternoon meetings promptly, and finished them satisfactorily to his standards.
There had also been added concerns of nearby disputes by country borders, and he’d sat back and watched those meetings as well, but he hardly felt the need to participate. It was all very trivial to him, nothing purposeful.
The Herhardt house will still prevail either way, despite the logical reasoning stemming from both sides of the disgruntled parties. He quietly chuckled in amusement at their squabbling.
How very pathetic they all were. He hardly cared if anyone noticed his less-than-ideal behavior. They didn’t matter to him at all.
He could feel their confused stares on him, but they didn’t matter to him either.
None of them ever did, and it made him burst into a rude laughter in the midst of the meeting, effectively cutting off the argument, as they all stared at him in a mix of confusion, apprehension and offense.
His laughter died down eventually, and Matthias smiled at them.
"I apologize, do continue."
And they spared him some last glances, and resumed their talks. Matthias might have acted as a liaison to both sides, and helped them reach a compromise, but it was hardly a noticeable feat.
The answer had always been in front of them, they’d just been too blinded by their own agendas, they hardly reached the correct conclusion.
All in all, it had been a family business that expanded so rapidly, that eventually their management methods for each expansion began to deviate from the original system. Which eventually led to many inconsistencies, and mismanagement, but Matthias quickly directed them to which was proper and more effective.
And after that, he went to a dinner meeting. While he found it relaxing being around familiar faces, and slipped in easily to his usual role as the lead conversationalist, it wasn’t a memorable night.
He’d had many of those nights already. Just another easy day for him. So quiet and perfect.
"We’re very sorry, my Lord." Hessen apologized as soon as he arrived, bowing deeply at his side.
Ah, that’s right. He’d summoned his butler for their recent progress. How disappointing their performance has been lately.
So far, they’ve told them they left in the middle of the night, and with no leads as to where. They neither had colleagues outside of Arvis, or any living relatives remaining. No connections leading to where they could have run off to.
"Find them." He reiterated, still looking serenely into his fireplace. He shouldn’t have had to repeat them in the first place.
"But, my Lord-" Hessen began after a tense moment of silence, but Matthias wasn’t interested in hearing their failure.
"It’s simply impossible for anyone to disappear without a single trace," He abruptly interrupted his butler, "They have more relatives than the ones in their direct line, I assure you." He pointed out, before leaning back in his wing chair and closed his eyes.
"Use whatever means you need to. Just find them." He finished.
Hessen remained standing in place, observing his master a little while longer. Outwardly, the Duke was calm, and hardly affected by this news. But he’d been serving the young Duke almost all his life, he could pick up the way his jaw had grown sharper…
His cheeks are hollower than before. And the tenseness in his frame, even as he feigned relaxation…
"As you wish, my Lord." Hessen finally responded, bowing down once again, before quietly making his exit.
Matthias took a deep breath, sinking further into the plush cushion of his wing chair. He hadn’t bothered getting out of his suit, he was rather comfortable even. And then a beautiful face flashed in the back of his mind, and he let out an amused laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.
"Well played, my little bird," He chuckled in amusement with himself, "I fell right in your trap!" he praised, smiling maniacally.
It all clicked right then and there, when he’d heard they had disappeared, why he’d been so unsettled. It was because of this. Always, his little bird always had tricks up her sleeves.
He expected her to be up to something, but not of this. He never thought she would escape him.
What a truly delightful being. He’d never grow bored of her now!
And to think she begged him to love her. Ah, she really was driving him crazy, wasn’t she? Ah well…
He’ll see her soon. Yes…
He’ll have her within his arms again soon. And she won’t ever leave him again.
Slowly, his eyes opened up, and he rose to his feet. Smoothly, he began discarding his clothes, replaying in the back of his mind how Leyla’s deft fingers would undress him boldly as she stood bare-naked in front of him…
He went to shower, images of their entangled bodies replayed with every sliding droplet down his skin…
Once he was done, he then went to bed.
The next day, his routine began once again. And when he walked out of his doorway, he felt…
No peace, no agitation…
Just plain… nothing.
He knew he wasn’t fine with Leyla being gone, but it also wasn’t unbearable. He will see her again, and have her again…
But if she really were to be gone from him forever…
He won’t let that happen. He doesn’t know what would happen to him if she was forever gone from him. He chuckled to himself once more, but it was devoid of any emotion at all.
Belatedly he could feel the lingering stared of his servants, but they didn’t matter to him either.
He settled down in the back seat of his car as Hessen promptly closed the door once he’d been settled. He continued laughing to himself, ignoring the worried and questioning glances they were all giving him…
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Let them think he was crazy. They didn’t matter to him.
In the end, this was only temporary.
As the car rolled down, and Matthias watched the scenic route outside with a serene smile, he laughed once again.
Ah, how beautiful the greenery was. It reminded him of her eyes.
What a funny thing all this was.