"Dr. Etman is coming to visit Matthias?" Elysee von Herhardt asked after hearing that their doctor was coming and going to check the Duke’s health.
"Yes my Lady, I heard that he went there today…" The maid, intimidated by the sharp tone she had taken with her, visibly cowered down as she mumbled under her breath.
After hearing this, she was silent for a moment.
When the middle-aged maid next to the two duchesses nodded, the young maid took that as a sign and hurriedly left with the empty dishes in the room. By the time she was gone, only two side dishes had remained in the quiet drawing-room.
"What should I do? He was a child who grew up without getting sick…" Elysee von Herhardt looked at her mother-in-law with anxious eyes. The former Duchess on her part, also appeared full of worry.
Bill Remmer and Leyla’s departure shocked and confused everyone in Arvis, and it was rather a great concern for them as well. Even though the relationship between the two was concerning, Leyla’s interactions with Matthias before gave no indication why they would leave them this hastily.
Fortunately, it didn’t seem as though Matthias was too bothered by their disappearance.
That’s right! It was needless for her to worry, Matthias was probably too worried about the wedding drawing near.
Furthermore, it seemed as though Matthias had gotten quite busy with his responsibilities lately, he appeared thinner than usual after all. Still, this much stress was expected, especially if he wanted to set his businesses in order before leaving for his honeymoon.
"I worry," Elysee fretted out loud anyway, "You don’t think he is getting sick because of that girl is he?" she quickly turned to the older duchess, to which the old lady of the house gave her a sharp stare.
"Stop! We can’t entertain reasons like that to be true." The old lady cut off her daughter-in-law’s concerns with cold words, "He is only a little stressed and overworked. He’ll be fine once he gets some rest." She huffed out with finality.
"I guess you are right".
"Of course. If we ask Dr. Etman later and listen to Matthias’ condition, we will know for sure. For now, don’t worry about anything." Norma quickly reassured her.
Elysee von Herhardt’s expression darkened. Her face also mirrored the tone of her mother-in-law which grew more determined. Trusting her words, eventually Elysee nodded more confidently.
‘Was the love he held for Leyla in his heart deep?’ Elysee thought worriedly. It was certainly possible for him to feel so strongly for her. After all, young people always fall in love so easily and quite earnestly prematurely.
It is easy to feel so much passion when one is still naïve and immature. Still, this was Matthias they were talking about and not anyone else. Her son was not like the others, was he? He had never been.
He always exhibited aristocratic traits of insensitivity and regal aloofness that always gave the impression to others that he was a level-headed young Lord. For the longest time, she held the same opinion of her son. However, recently he had been acting rather unusual, and as his mother, she felt anxious that perhaps something strange had happened.
Their predecessors, the Dukes of Herhardt, never had the reputation of being friendly nor of being sociable men, Matthias was the same too. However, lately Matthias’s temperament felt a little different from theirs.
Still, even if he slightly differed from the previous Lords, he was an upstanding Duke that a little deviation was hardly anything to take issue with. He is, after all, known as the pride of the Herhardts. There has never been such greater praise than to be bestowed with such a title.
Therefore, she has always believed that she gave birth to the family’s living glory and honor.
It was also due to her son’s accomplishments as a young boy that Elysee also believed him to be perfect for the longest time. It drove an immeasurable gap between her and Matthias, something she was hesitant to fill in.
Even though she gave birth to him, and he was the fruit of her belly, he seemed so otherworldly.
He’s Matthias, no one else. Not her son, not her husband’s son, but Matthias.
As such, it was an entirely ridiculous notion that someone like him would suffer because of one lowly orphan! Such blasphemy it was!
She shook her head, pushed these thoughts away, and assured herself that there was nothing to worry about and she was too paranoid.
Seriously, she needed to stop worrying too much.
Matthias slowly opened his eyes, and as his blurry vision cleared, he realized that he was lying on his back on a cold mattress. For a moment he just stayed there motionlessly staring into space.
As more seconds ticked by, he began to recognize the darkness that settled in his room as dark shadows came in from his opened windows. He remembered falling asleep at dawn, the morning must have already passed.
Ever since he started taking the sleeping pills, it felt as though he lost his sense of time. Night and day began to blur together, he could no longer recognize one from the other.
He felt stuck in limbo where seconds, minutes and hours were unrecognizable concepts of time he no longer remembered, nor cared for.
Even when he felt exhausted from all the work he’d been taking on, it seemed as if he couldn’t sleep without those pills. No matter when or where he was, whether it was day or night, all he wanted was to sleep…
And then he would find himself swallowing those pills like it was second nature.
Perhaps, at some point, it had become second nature.
Perhaps sleep had become his means of escape.
At least, while he was intoxicated and under the influence of the medicine, he did not remain plagued with his memories of Leyla and her body against his.
But as soon as he opened his sunken eyes, he would find himself stuck in those memory loops all over again.
He didn’t want to do anything. He had no energy to do anything but sleep.
Additionally, it proved to be all the more annoying that their family doctor kept checking up on him. He didn’t even order for him to be summoned. The old doctor just kept coming in and out of his bedroom, uninvited!
And it was wearing thin on his patience!
Dr. Etman even had the gall to tell him yesterday, he would no longer prescribe him with more sleeping pills! How preposterous of him!
Still, Matthias saw no need to provide him with a proper answer, and smiled at him instead. Deep down, he knew that the doctor was not the kind of person who says these things so carelessly.
He knew that he might actually take such measures against him.
Regardless, it wasn’t as if he couldn’t just pay another doctor to give him a prescription instead.
And so Matthias stood up from his bed, practically dragging his feet out of bed as his steps grew sluggish. He cast his eyes at the clock after taking a bath and drinking a cup of water.
It was already past noon.
What schedule did he have today?
He tried to remember but his head felt so empty that nothing came to mind.
Eventually, Matthias decided to get dressed.
As he was fixing himself up alone, he pulled the bell and called the butler. By the time he finished fastening up the last button of his shirt, Hessen was already at his door, knocking, to which he promptly allowed him to enter his bedroom.
"I shall prepare a meal for you, my Lord." Hessen quickly informed him, taking note of his dressed figure.
"No," Matthias replied rather quickly, "Coffee is enough." He ordered.
He was in no mood to eat. Everything tasted so bland in this house.
"My Lord…" Hessen began to protest, but Matthias quickly cut him off, not bothering with any other word his butler had to say to him.
His opinions did not matter to Matthias.
"What’s my afternoon schedule?" Matthias asked as he approached the window and pulled open the curtain.
His eyes raked over the skies, which appeared darker and heavier than usual. It was graying with thickened clouds, blocking out the sunlight from shining over his property.
Despite the ominous cold weather, humid winds carried the sweet scent of flowers upon him opening the curtains. Somehow, spring had danced its way inside his room.
"Your schedule is clear for the whole afternoon. So you can take a rest, my Lord." Hessen’s answer swam into his ears.
Ah right, he was still here.
"I see." he hummed softly, eyes still looking outside to the gardens.
"You have to eat, master…" Hessen told him with great concern in his tone, "Should I call for Dr. Etman again?" he quickly offered up and Matthias felt more irritation bubbling up inside of him at his continued interference.
His butler was never this insistent before! And yet, Hessen seemed more persistent today than before!
Sweeping back his still wet hair, Matthias turned to stare pointedly at him and stood up. The old butler, who rarely expressed his feelings, was now staring back at him with worried eyes.
Matthias does not understand why he was giving him such a look.
There was no need for concern, but it was too tiring to explain himself to people who’d never understand.
He just wanted to go back to sleep and hoped that when he woke up, whatever he felt, all these bundled-up thoughts would soon disappear like smoke.
The last thing he wanted now was a meal, a doctor and…
Everything was bloody annoying!
After taking a sip of the coffee Hessen prepared in silence, Matthias made his way to the cage solemnly.
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These days, his canary, who used to fly around the room diligently, lately kept crouching in on itself like a ball. Every time Matthias checked on it, it was always tucked inside its nest.
Did it crave for sleep and rest like he does right now?
Matthias reached out and wrapped his hands around the seemingly helpless bird and pulled it out of the cage. He brought it up to his face, deciding to finally see what the change in behavior was all about.
After inspecting the canary up close, he gathered that it was ill. Its beautiful feathers, which used to be glossy and reflected the sunlight beautifully, were now noticeably in disarray and rather coarse.
It had grown scruffy and dull yellow.
A random memory finally resurfaced to mind, completely devoid of Leyla. It was of his bird taking a bath and shaking off the excess water several times a day came to his mind.
Just then, the canary which had stayed still in his hands, suddenly rubbed its small, soft body and beak against his palms.
It was almost as if, it was seeking his warmth and relying on Matthias body temperature to fight against the coldness.
Matthias stood there for a long time, just enveloping the bird in his touch. The longer he stood there taking in his canary, the more his mind returned to being plagued with memories of a golden-haired woman tormenting him over…
and over again.
"Please love me."
It was the day she smiled like a witch and put a curse on him.
"I want you to love me."
It was said in the late afternoon, when every sweet word was actually carving out his heart.
"Give me your love, for eternity…"
Every moment and every second of the day, it was Leyla. His terribly beautiful Leyla, who filled his waking moments.
Eventually he carefully returned the bird to its nest.
With a sense of urgency and responsibility, he turned to Hessen, who was patiently waiting for whatever he needed to be done.
Matthias wasted no time to give him an order.
"Get me the zoo keeper." he barked at Hessen, "Have him check on my canary." He finished, before turning to face the cage once more.
Hessen blinked in confusion.
"Now!" Matthias reiterated, and Hessen bowed in acquiescence.
"At once, my Lord."
And just like that, Matthias proceeded to turn on his heels. As he marched to leave the room without uttering a single word, the butler took anxious steps and trailed behind him
"My lord, if you’re going out, let Evers…"
"I’m going to take a walk, so I don’t need him to accompany me." He snapped at the butler. Matthias abruptly stopped on his tracks in front of a window in the hallway. For a split second it seemed he was hesitating about something.
When Hessen took a few steps back to maintain a proper distance, Matthias resumed his walk with wider steps until his shadow completely left the hallway.
By the time he’d left the mansion and entered through the gardens, the sky was already brimming with dark clouds, the likelihood of rain becoming more and more probable.
However, Matthias ignored the signs of bad weather and kept on in his path, unwilling to be stopped. Honestly, he didn’t even know where he was headed. But even so, Matthias could hardly care where he ended up in.
After days of filling up the spaces in his head of Leyla’s laughing figure, of her cute and embarrassed expressions, he was suddenly overwhelmed with feelings of anger as he thought of how much he was blinded by her.
Thinking about it now, he was more surprised at the fact that a bad actress like her could deceive him so skillfully. Perhaps he was truly blinded by desire, so he couldn’t see how obviously she was playing him.
His self-loathing felt like oil that fueled the flame inside his heart and swallowed him whole.
Even though he knew he had every right to be angry, and indeed he was, somehow that anger did not seem enough. He wished he would be angry, instead there was only an unsettling stillness and numbing coldness in his heart..
‘Is this the extent of it? Is this all it amounts to? Is this the end? Is everything over now?’ He pondered, almost not realizing that his feet had carried him by the riverside.
The waters reflected that dark skies, appearing colder and cloudier than before. Still, Matthias walked along the bedside of the river, following its current.
‘If everything is over, there is no reason to find her, right?’
Once again, he found himself asking a question.
Maybe it’s a good thing that she is gone.
The thorn by his side has finally disappeared. He felt a sense of clarity washing over him, it seemed as though the fog of the aftermath of her departure had finally been lifted.
He should return to his life as the unshakable Duke of Herhardt.
That’s right. It was this simple. Everything, in the end, was this easy.
Just then, the image of a bird at the foot of the river suddenly came to view. It flapped its wings purposefully until it was near enough for Matthias to recognize.
He started to laugh, because it was such a funny sight.
The bird had a familiar colored thread at its ankle. It was a ribbon Leyla Lewellin had attached to migratory birds born and raised in Arvis.
The bird is back.
After recalling that fact, and seeing the bird Leyla was earnestly waiting for return, his heartbeats became a little faster.
What is this? His heart drummed loudly and reverberated throughout his body.
It was as if he had forgotten what he had resolved to do only seconds ago and only one thought ran in his mind…
‘So Leyla, you have to come back to me, too.’
It felt so natural. It seemed that this wishful thinking would soon become a reality.
Then, the lips that had barely had any reason to laugh started to tremble and curve upward. He couldn’t stop himself even though he knew it was a delusion created by a sick mind that was restless and lost that it couldn’t even make any proper judgment.
He was trapped in a trance-like daze, and before he knew it, he was already running. His figure weaved through the forest greenery where small patches of spring started to blossom. He did not pause to admire the view and resolutely sprinted on until he arrived at the gardener’s cabin.
White sheets that were draped over the clothesline violently fluttered against the chilly breeze, but his thoughts focused on the warm lights that came out of the window. And beyond that open door, was someone who was wearing an apron…
Leyla rushed out.
Her braided hair swayed from behind as she walked in a hurry.
‘See? You’re back.’
But then rain started to fall, and he wanted to laugh like a crazy idiot. He should have known that things were going to turn out this way.
The past few weeks have been so quiet, so inconsequential. It was at this moment of realization that all those visions he was seeing disappeared in a split second.
As the next second chimed in, he finally let out a loud sigh laced with a burst of laughter. It was at this instant that it dawned on him that he was standing alone in the courtyard of an abandoned cabin, where weeds began to sprout due to neglect.
Matthias stopped there and calmly looked around in the rain.
He hadn’t gone in the cabin since Leyla had run away from him. He didn’t think he wanted to check up on it again. He could convince himself to do so if he wanted to, he could make himself believe that none of those things happened, that none of it was real.
Instead of moving on, turning around and leaving the place like any sane person would, like he promised not even minutes before he would, Matthias’ feet were soon stumbling towards the cabin.
He did not know why he was doing it.
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But it tasted the same as his feelings of not wanting to let go. He found himself being tugged at both sides of wanting to release her and holding on to these lingering feelings. In the end he knew that he was only losing, it was a meaningless game.
As his feet climbed the aged wooden stairs, it creaked beneath his weight.
He reached out, clasping the cold knob in his hand. He then turned the handle of the front door with his wet hands and the locked door opened without any resistance to reveal the dark emptiness hidden inside.
His breathing came in and out shakily and he shut his eyes, hearing the hard beating of his heart in the back of his mind. Finally finding his composure, Matthias’ eyes opened once more…
And into the threshold he went.