My eyes opened because I felt someone poke my cheek. The ceiling of the room came into view followed by a familiar pair of blue eyes.
"Are you all right? You kept frowning."
"Does it still hurt?" Concern was written all over my husband’s face.
My head felt fine and so did my neck. "Well… I think I’m all right."
"Are you certain?" He looked anxious.
For some reason, I wanted to tease him more, so I sighed. However, pretending to be in pain didn’t last long when his gaze seemed to urge me to respond. "I’m hungry."
"…It is past lunchtime." He gave me a small smile as if dumbfounded that the first thing I wanted was food.
I heard a knock, and the butler entered the room with a silver tray in his hand.
"My lady, I am glad to see you awake. How are you feeling?"
"I’m fine." I smiled at Alan. He was really relieved. "What’s that you have there?"
There was a small box on the tray.
"Ah, I thought you were going to be hungry when you woke up. I brought you a snack."
Alan, you are the greatest, most perfect butler in the world. As soon as I showed signs of excitement, my husband tried to make me lie down as if he didn’t like it. I glared at him while I received the box. When I removed the lid, I saw an assortment of cookies. I felt my mouth water, seeing the unique shapes and patterns coated in sugar.
"They look different."
"Is this your first time seeing them? These cookies are one of Havel’s specialties. I bought them from a bakery."
"Yes, it’s a place that sells snacks and desserts in one place."
A place that sells snacks and desserts in one place! Does such a location really exist? The butler began to explain what a bakery was, and the picture in my head was similar to heaven. I needed to go there. It was a mythical place that sold only sweets. The city wasn’t far from the castle. If I had the time later…
"I would advise you not to leave the castle."
Someone had crushed my dreams. The culprit, unfortunately, was my husband.
"I know." I was aware of the risks. Regardless, the number of curses in my head was in the hundreds of thousands. It was a shame I was stuck here and recovering. Still, if I was careful…
"You cannot go to the bakery, Ella."
"…I haven’t even said anything."
"You’d be fine were you to take precautions."
Wait, how did he know what I was thinking? I wondered if he could read the minds of other humans, but I dismissed the silly notion immediately. My mouth tightened into a thin line to show my dissatisfaction.
"You mustn’t think all humans will be like those in the castle. The ones here are strange folk."
"Are you including yourself in that group?"
I agreed with what he said, however. Maybe it was because the duke himself was weird, but all the servants were eccentric. They neither feared nor hated me as a witch. I was also in disbelief they accepted my existence. Of course, this only applied to House 1. It was a lot worse out there, but… Sorry, my curiosity about the world outside the castle wasn’t going anywhere. One day, I’ll go out and come back. I swear it. I made a promise to myself as I ate the last remaining cookies.
"I believe it is time for my lord and my lady to prepare for today’s ball," Alan said.
I nodded. Everything we were supposed to do in the morning didn’t happen because of the strangling incident. Even though I was the one who was mainly affected, my husband used it as an excuse not to work. The butler wasn’t pleased. To add insult to injury, my husband insisted he had to care for his wife; he couldn’t bear to leave her alone.
"I was getting a headache as I thought of excuses all morning until this occurred. Thank you."
Alan reminded us that we weren’t allowed to miss the ball.
My husband reluctantly rose from his seat and outstretched his hand to me. "Cheer up. It will be over soon."
It was only one day. Actually, it was less than that. The guests will leave as soon as the sun rises tomorrow morning. There were a few hours left.
I was certain. Yet why did I feel uneasy?
It was almost as if I knew something was about to happen.
"I’m sick of it already."
The farewell ball didn’t hold any real significance. Just like the first day, it was nothing more than delicious food, dancing, and chatting to a lively song. It wasn’t anything new, probably because Kartelle had its own balls. Bored, I leaned back in my chair. I then felt Emily’s piercing gaze from afar, so I quickly fixed my posture.
"When will this end…"
Everyone finished eating, but I couldn’t leave since I was the hostess. Unlike me, my husband was busy talking with people and rarely had time to sit down. I liked seeing the annoyed look on his face which appeared from time to time. It made the ball go ever so slightly faster.
"What a fine evening we’re having, Duchess."
I turned my head to the side and saw an old man approach me. Marquis Anthony Phineas. Many people were interested in witches but didn’t dare approach us hastily. Maybe witch scholars were different?
I smiled politely. "Yes, it is quite delightful."
After all, it was the last day of the celebration. He seemed to be like a very excited child.
"I wished to talk to you sooner, but there wasn’t any time."
Yesterday, my husband refused to leave my side, so the marquis had no chance to speak with me. Today, he didn’t appear in the morning because of the incident with Count Dorison, so I assumed he gave up trying to have a conversation with a witch.
"May I sit next to you?"
The marquis quickly sat down. And then, I instantly regretted my decision.
"I heard witches are weak to sunlight. Is it true?"
"No, the sun is the least of our worries since…"
He was said to be a famous scholar, but I wasn’t expecting him to take out a bunch of parchment paper and start writing down my responses. Watching this unfold, I continued to answer his questions honestly. Fortunately, he didn’t ask anything that was difficult to answer. I hesitated to respond to some questions; however, when I smiled awkwardly, the marquis knew to move on. He was a decent person.
"May I ask one last question?"
"Go ahead." I nodded, thankful his inquiries would be over.
"I heard that in the world of witches, only girls are born. Is this true?"
I thought I was hearing things for a second. He was asking about one of the most closely guarded secrets of Kartelle. It was one that witches should never reveal to humans. I didn’t know what to say.
The marquis’s eyes were practically sparkling. "I will never tell anyone. I’m just so curious… As a scholar of course!"
My attempt to change the subject failed before I could even try.
"In that case, how do witches produce children? With no men, there has to be another means to…"
Was someone listening in on our conversation? I scanned my surroundings. Luckily, everyone was too busy chatting with one another like yesterday. I sighed in relief.
I froze, hearing an unexpected voice from behind.
"Would you be so kind as to stop pestering my wife?" My husband had appeared.
When I looked behind me, Lukas was leaning against a marble pillar. How long was he there? More importantly… Did he hear what the marquis asked?
"Ah, Duke, when did you—"
My husband approached us and kicked the chair that the marquis sat in. The unlucky marquis got up; my husband sat down in his seat and crossed his legs. There were plenty of other chairs… From the beginning, his arrogance had an air of finesse to some extent. However, this wasn’t the time to admire his character. Was my husband interested in what the marquis mentioned?
As he took a sip from his wine glass, my husband lifted a piece of parchment paper. "What is this?"
It contained all the information the marquis had written down. He had no time to bring them with him since he changed seats so quickly.
"Was it fun making observations about my wife, Marquis?"
"It was a dream come true—I mean, no, not at all!"
It was too late. Grimacing, my husband confiscated all the parchment paper. The marquis’s face paled as all his valuable research material fell into the hands of the Black Reaper.
"I believe I should hold onto them. Allowing outsiders to learn private information about my wife is far from ideal. Am I mistaken?"
"My land is no mere duchy."
"There’s a saying in Havel. ‘Don’t let outsiders know what occurs behind the wall.’" He smiled.
With that, the marquis had to relinquish his research to the Duke of Havel. Meanwhile, I was still concerned about whether my husband overheard that last question about witches; however, since my husband could hide his thoughts and emotions, I had to be careful.
"Please let me see your neck."
"Oh, all right." After a moment of hesitation, I tilted my head.
"How are you feeling?"
"My neck doesn’t hurt anymore."
I was no longer bitter about it, but the marks were still present. Betty was surprised when she helped me dress earlier. There was a fuss about how to hide it, and Emily, who had rushed into the room, held out a necklace. With its white pearls, the accessory covered my shoulders and wrapped around my neck several times. It was able to cover my wound.
My husband lifted the necklace and murmured, "Bear with it for a while longer. It’s almost over."
I nodded. I was also relieved he didn’t overhear my conversation with the marquis. I glanced at Marquis Phineas, who was surprisingly calm. It seemed he quickly recovered from the shock of losing all those papers. I looked away before we made eye contact. The other humans, however, were staring at me. They seemed to know what had happened earlier, and it was impossible for people who liked rumors to just watch. Sighing, I emptied my glass. My husband was also served several dishes by the servants and began to eat.
"It is time."
The entire room became quiet. The main event was about to start.
"Bring forth the Carcalos!"
A ceremony that marked the end.