‘One, two, three, four…’ Leyla counted in her mind as she walked calmly on the fourth alley and headed towards the square. She’d just come from the bell tower, and since she’d found the place unfamiliar, it was expected for her to get lost for a few or more turns in the new territory she found herself in.
After reaching the square, she finally managed to find her way back to their new home without spacing out and getting lost again.
Once arriving at their destination, Uncle Bill’s very distant relative had endorsed them to a residential building, with a free space on its second floor. The space was narrower than the one they had in Arvis, but it was also cleaner than the cabin they used to live in.
Understandably, Uncle Bill felt a little more out of place than she did. He was not used to living in a house that had not enough space to grow his own crops and flowers.
With her arms full of bags of groceries, Leyla leisurely trudged up the stairs in their new residence. She reached it relatively easily and put down the groceries to open up the door, before entering with them through the threshold.
She went to their small kitchen, and began putting away the groceries. Once finished, she looked around, noted her uncle wasn’t in, and decided to go out and look for him again. Locking the door behind her, she quickly got back outside.
She walked calmly on the alley in front of their building, eyes glancing inquisitively at her surroundings as she walked all the way down to the end of the street.
And there she saw her uncle, right across from her, looking out over at the spanning beach and sea just off a distance.
"Uncle!" She called out, jolting him for a moment, before he turned around and saw her.
Bill wiped the forming sweat of his temples and smiled at her as she neared him. He’d just begun work on the nearby dockyard in the harbor this week. She hoped it wasn’t too strenuous for him.
"What brings you here, my dear? Shouldn’t you be waiting at home?" He quickly inquired after greeting her. Leyla only shrugged and smiled.
"I checked the time, and figured work was done for the day, so I came to fetch you!" She beamed at him, as she showed him the wristwatch. Bill only chuckled half-heartedly, before playfully rubbing her blonde head of hair.
Both new residents looked a lot better than when they did on their arrival. They were both more peaceful, happier…
It was almost akin to the peace they experienced in Arvis before the greenhouse got destroyed. But most of all, it hid from Leyla just how difficult Bill was taking to their new lifestyle.
He’d been a gardener his whole life, and while he didn’t regret leaving that behind, he reluctantly admitted to himself that his new job hadn’t been easy to learn. But it seemed, he wasn’t the only one hiding the difficulty of adjusting to a new place.
"Actually, I wanted to tell you I found a job too." Leyla finally told him as they resumed walking back to their small apartment. Bill’s eyes grew wide in awe and pride.
"That’s wonderful Leyla! And so quickly too!" He praised her, and Leyla beamed proudly back at him.
"Remember the hiring at the museum Uncle Allen told us about?" Leyla quickly elaborated, "Well, I just had an interview with an assistant, and if it all goes well, I’m going to be working in it soon."
"Ah that’s so wonderful Leyla! See? I knew you’d do well in anything!" her uncle praised her, making Leyla feel giddy and proud of herself as well. "How soon do you start?"
"I start tomorrow." She informed him, and a worried look came upon his face.
"Tomorrow?" He asked her worriedly, "But you’re still not feeling well my dear, are you sure you can handle work in such a condition?"
Leyla quickly nodded her head in assent.
"Of course, uncle," She reassured him, "Besides, they might think I’m a patient if I make that as an excuse."
"You’re not even eating properly since we got here, so what if they see you as a patient?" Bill asked her bluntly, his worry for her not letting him be delicate in his questioning.
She really hadn’t eaten much, and whatever she ate, she’d hurl out moments later. It made him more anxious and worried with every passing day.
"I’ll be fine!" Leyla insisted softly, "It’s just the new environment I’m sure, once I begin work, I’ll integrate more into the community and adjust better."
Bill took in a deep breath as he eyed his ward.
"Alright," He finally conceded, "But only if you’re sure."
"I’m sure." she reassured him with a smile.
Bill didn’t like seeing that smile. She’d gotten thinner since they’d arrived. And she kept smiling at him reassuringly, avoiding any topic of him helping her. He wanted to help her, at this point he even wished for her to cry and scream out her frustration…
Yet still she kept smiling. And there wasn’t anything Bill could do when she’d refuse his help.
"Oh look uncle, we’re finally here!" Leyla beamed at him, pointing to their apartment as she quickly averted the subject. She quickly pulled on his arm, pulling him towards the residential building when she met some resistance.
"I know that Leyla," Bill smiled at her, "Come on." He encouraged her to follow him. Leyla frowned in confusion.
"Where are you going?"
"It’s rather hot outside today," Bill hummed thoughtfully, "And I suddenly feel a craving for some ice cream. Come along now." He kept walking away from the building, leaving his niece confused, yet still eagerly following behind him.
Eventually they ended up sitting at the outside tables of a cafe that served soft ice cream. They sat across each other, basking in the open-air and savoring their cold treat. It was a nice change of pace as Leyla finally received her vanilla-flavored ice cream, while her uncle had an ice-cold beer.
"Eat quickly or it’ll melt soon." Bill pointed out to Leyla when she just stared at her ice cream bowl. This jolted Leyla to look at him dryly before picking up her dessert spoon and scooped a heapful of ice cream, making a show of shoving it inside her mouth.
"It’s not like it’s difficult to eat." She murmured to him, and Bill chuckled at her. "Oh, this tastes good." She remarked, smacking her lips together in appreciation.
"Do you want something difficult to eat then?"
"No." She quickly responded, eyes crinkling in distaste, and continued to eat her ice cream heartily. They laughed and talked with each other, as Leyla desperately drowned the thoughts of heated touches and dark blue eyes in the back of her mind.
She looked up at the bright sky, and saw only blue. It was the clear summer sky. Not long now…
Not long now, summer will soon arrive in the distant city up in the North.
Cracks had begun to form from the solid foundation Matthias had built for himself. He could feel it grow stronger the more time passes by away from Leyla. He could hardly sleep anymore, and the days had begun blending together…
Nothing in his mind made any sense, nor became more important than finding Leyla. Day after day, Matthias found it harder and harder to get out of bed.
It wasn’t until late in the morning that he finally rose out of bed. His eyes remained sunken despite the prolonged rest, his face hollow and sharp, his blue eyes dull and darker than before.
He dragged his feet towards the bathroom, where he stopped and looked at his reflection with a blank expression. His eyes were notably bloodshot, more indication of his restless night.
Lately he’d find himself laughing to himself, but nothing was funny. His chuckles and grins were all devoid of any emotion other than numbness…
When had anything stopped being amusing? When did they all stop becoming ridiculous? He had no idea, they all just ended up unimportant, shoved so far back in his mind, he couldn’t be bothered to waste time to think about them at all.
He splashed the cold water on his face, a futile attempt to keep himself focused and wiped it clean before looking back to his reflection again.
Ah, he needed to shower. And so he did, but the pounding in his temples grew worse as soon as he got out. And then three sharp knocks came.
"My Lord, it’s me, Hessen." The muffled voice greeted him from behind the thick doors. Matthias grabbed his robe and went out of the bathroom.
Hessen was momentarily important too.
"Enter." He commanded, his cool and composed tone never changing.
Upon the butler’s entrance, Matthias noted the way he had pursed his lips in contemplation upon the sight of him. To be honest, Matthias still found himself rather dashing.
Matthias settled by his wing chair, which he’d since ordered it to be moved near the window, as opposed to its original post in front of the fireplace. He let out a relaxed sigh as he leaned back, eyes trailed to look over the budding roses out in the garden.
He glanced at the road Leyla took before, seeing her pass by as she usually did, before she once again faded from his view.
What a tedious and normal life he led.
He listened quietly as Hessen rattled off with today’s morning news while simultaneously preparing his preferred coffee. What boring news his butler brought him again. That wasn’t what Matthias wanted to hear.
And it seemed his butler saw right through him when Hessen quieted down and bowed to him apologetically.
"I’m truly sorry, my Lord." Hessen said. "We still found no traces of Mr. Remmer and Ms. Lewellin."
"So find them." Matthias hummed disinterestedly, taking a relaxing sip of his scalding cup of coffee. Hessen appeared to want to say something…
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Day after day news of his servant’s failure to find his bird came, and day after day, Matthias’ mind hadn’t changed.
He will find them. There simply wasn’t any reason why he couldn’t. They just needed to look harder.
"I will do my utmost, my Lord." Hessen finally told him, bowing at him in resignation.
And Matthias smiled as he looked outside, waiting for the roses to bloom for him. He was satisfied with the butler’s answer, but Hessen could only grow more worried for his master.
He knew how affected Matthias had been since Ms. Lewellin’s disappearance. Matthias didn’t have to tell him. His actions and state of health were of great indication to him. And so he takes his master’s unreasonable requests within stride, but he won’t stand idly by and watch his master waste himself away.
That was not proper for a butler.
"I shall send Dr. Etman to you upon your return home later then as well, my Lord." Hessen informed him dutifully, which finally made his master get out of his musings. He could see the confused question on the Duke’s face.
"Allow me to do this for you, my Lord," Hessen requested his master, "For the ease of this old butler’s heart."
The Duke doesn’t sleep nor eat well anymore, that much he could tell. And he’s lost weight, if his sharpened features were of any indication. Hessen feared his master was spiralling out of control, hidden from anyone’s view aside from him, and he wanted to prevent that.
Matthias sighed, and let out a terse nod, and Hessen bowed gratefully at him.
"Do what you must " Matthias sighed out at him.
"Thank you, my Lord," Hessen replied, "I will."
When the esteemed Dr. Etman had first entered the mansion, he’d initially thought it was just a routine check-up, is all. But looking at the Duke, seated in his chair all relaxed and spacing out, eventually made him feel worried for his patient.
The Duke greeted him the same, he was calm and composed the entire time when he’d give his focus on the doctor, but Dr. Etman’s main concern was how emaciated the Duke had become. Once he was done checking up, the doctor took his seat across from the duke, and got ready to relay his assessment.
"Just prescribe me some sleeping pills." The Duke beat him to the chase, and the doctor blinked in alarm before hastily protesting against such measures.
"Duke Herhardt, I must advise strongly against-"
"I only need to sleep well, then I’ll be fine." Matthias quickly interrupted, disregarding his advice as tiresome and trivial at most.
"Just losing sleep does not equate to losing so much weight and appetite, Duke." The doctor persisted.
"If I can sleep well, then I can eat well." Matthias rationalized with a shrug of his shoulder. "Like I said, I need only sleeping pills."
Dr. Etman was greatly disturbed by this insistence. He didn’t want to prescribe any medicine for the Duke, and wanted to let him gradually gain weight, but the Duke was adamant that lack of sleep was the only problem. At first glance he might be inclined to agree, but something in the doctor’s gut feeling told him it ran deeper than just a lack of sleep.
What’s going on with the Duke?
It didn’t matter how much he’d assess and make assumptions and theories on the Duke’s ailment, he won’t be able to guess it without thorough examination. And the Duke, as of the moment, was a little uncooperative. Without further permission, Dr. Etman could do no further examination on him. And still in a sound mind, and body, despite the body being in a less desired state than standard, he can only concede to his patient’s wishes.
And Dr. Etman was dismissed and escorted out of the Duke’s chambers, with Hessen obediently trailing behind the doctor.
Finally alone, Matthias grunted displeasingly as he plopped down on his bed haphazardly. The bed beneath him was too cold, and too soft. It was like he was drowning in water, but never really sinking.
Even as he closed his eyes, his senses were on high alert still. Was this what dying felt like?
Thankfully, his sleepless nights won’t be here for long. After the sunset, the medicine the doctor prescribed for him would soon arrive, and he’d be right as rain.
Still, in the meantime, he’d have to make due with resting while awake.
A sharp knock came, jolting Matthias back to his senses before noting how dark the outside had gotten. Not waiting for a response, Hessen stepped inside the room, and set his prescribed dose and medicine on the bedside table.
Matthias eyed it greedily.
"I’ll have the maids serve your dinner here, my Lord." Hessen informed him and Matthias quickly shook his head.
"There’s no need for dinner."
"But, my Lord-" Hessen paused when he watched Matthias throw an arm over his eyes as he lay stockstill on his bed. Hessen’s lips pursed into a thin line, before bowing at him.
"Then rest comfortably, my Lord." Hessen relented, before quietly shutting the door behind him so as to not disturb his master further.
And then only static silence remained with Matthias for a long while, before he found the energy to move again.
When did it begin? And how much of it had been a lie?
Those were the questions that kept swimming in and out of his mind. As soon as he acknowledged he’d been ridiculously deceived and driven mad by a woman, a new hell of questions kept turning up.
She wasn’t that masterful at lying. He knew that to be true. Leyla wasn’t good at deceiving anyone, not even him. Some of her words had been true, but which ones?
Which of her feelings of him were true?
All those smiles she gave him, letting his hands roam over her soft mounds and smooth skin, her sensual kisses…
Which of them were lies? He couldn’t find any evidence of it being one at all.
Which of them were fake? He had to know.
Was everything false then? Her love of him? It couldn’t be.
It was a futile attempt at regaining back control over his ruined life. But despite knowing that, Matthias didn’t want to get rid of any thought of Leyla, pleasant or otherwise.
Finally, he sat up and leaned against the headboard of his bed.
He stared out into nothingness, watching every shadow cast in his room by the bright moon hovering outside of Arvis.
And then he whistled, a music bubbling up within his chest, letting him play a tune to his heart’s content.
Something was missing.
Matthias wondered what it was.
Ah. He realized after a moment, still whistling to nothing.
His canary was strangely silent.
His eyes wandered into the golden cage, noting its cage was open, but it lay asleep and curled up comfortably in the nest he bought it.
This time, he whistled for it to come to him.
Strangely, it stayed asleep, never hearing him.
His canary eventually lost his attention, as his eyes drifted off to the side and assessed the contents on the table. Something deep inside him was bubbling up, but he couldn’t put a pin on it.
He was staring at the medicine.
It was the urge to finally fall asleep, to give in to the magic of medicine and depend on it.
Should he? He did ask for it.
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After longer contemplation, Matthias finally moved, his hands reaching out for the small pill that would bring him one night of rest.
He swallowed the medicine dry, before settling back in his plush bed, a relieved smile on his face.
He can feel it taking effect, the buzzing underneath his veins eventually dying down.
He was right. Sleep was all he needed.
He’d be okay now.