I Betray My Dignity - Chapter 2
A round table with a card placed beautifully in the middle was seen just over Alice’s shoulder. Chloe blinked rapidly several times when she saw the birch tree-shaped seal on it. The invitation to the party sent by the Duke was so simple that she was embarrassed to call it an invitation. Though for an aristocrat like him, there was no such thing as a boring invitation. All that was written was the party’s location, time, and the invitee. Knowing very well that there wasn’t a single person in the kingdom with enough courage to reject an invitation from him, Chloe still had a frown on her face.
“He’s probably more brutal now, huh?”
Alice’s head shot up out of Chloe’s arms when she mumbled that to herself.
Chloe hurriedly shook her head no. Alice continued with her eyes half-closed, her face still drowsy.
“Even without the rumors, I hate Damian Teece.”
“Chloe, you were very hurt when the Duke’s army left after messing up the castle. I remember. I was on a break from school, so I came home; the inside of the castle was like a wasteland, and you were injured so badly that Father couldn’t even look at you.”
Mr. Chester had said that Chloe had been moved to the hospital due to her injuries sustained by the soldiers. To make matters worse, natural disasters had begun to occur that year, and the harvesting of crops had also decreased by one-tenth. Thus, the ill-fated relationship between the Verdiers and Duke Teece had started then.
“Is that why you don’t want to go, Chloe? You’re worried you might get involved with one of his schemes?” Alice, after reaching that conclusion, managed to lift her heavy eyelids and look up at her sister. “Don’t worry, Chloe. Just go there tomorrow and act like a well-mannered young lady. And I can find a man good enough to hurt Duke Teece’s pride.”
Chloe smiled at her younger sister, thinking whether it would be possible to find someone comparable to the power of the Teece family in all the kingdom.
“Yep, I feel stronger thanks to you, Alice,” Chloe mumbled in a determined voice before Alice closed her eyes and fell asleep. That Alice would be shocked by the number of visitors in their aunt’s house. Then she carefully got off the bed after checking she was in a deep sleep. A brisk gust of wind came in through the crack in the door. It was a summer night, but she became worried that Alice might catch a cold. So she walked carefully over to the window and closed it before sitting in a chair to stretch out her legs, rubbing her palms over her thighs.
There was a pain in her legs from having walked for so long. She thought about going to the sauna but then gave up on the idea because it would be too much work to call in a maid.
“…don’t be afraid,” she mumbled to herself.
Unlike Alice, Chloe has never left the Verdier estate, except when she was young—but that memory was faint now. She tried not to display it in front of her sister, but she has been feeling nervous ever since they arrived in Swan two days ago. As soon as Aunt Tabatha looked through their trunk on the day of their arrival, she had said that they didn’t have any proper dresses and urged them to go to the best dress shop downtown the next day.
“Why in the hell would I marry off my niece looking like that?”
The dress that Alice wore last year still looked new, but Aunt Tabatha had complained that it wasn’t trendy enough, that it looked old-fashioned. It was because of her comments that they had gone around to five shops to try on dresses, and in the end, she had bought a customized dress at a high price for a young lady who was unable to attend a party due to her disability.
“You won’t be able to dance, but as long as you follow Alice, you must be formal.”
Chloe didn’t like the idea of getting a new dress if she couldn’t dance in it, like Aunt Tabatha said. However, it was bad etiquette to show up looking shabby at the party she was invited to, so after hearing that she could not humiliate herself and her sister, she had taken gold coins out of her precious pocket. She had tried her best to hide her trembling hand holding the money to purchase the dress, but it was a futile attempt.
“Now I know why your father sent you two alone with an escort. Your family is all out of money, huh? To the point where even taking a trip is wearisome.”
Aunt Tabatha’s eyes were sharp at that time. Continuing natural disasters had led to poor harvests on the Verdier estate. To make matters worse, this misfortune happened at the same time the stock their father had invested plunged. Chloe had also known about that. Still, she had believed that they could overcome it by pinching pennies, but the family’s financial status was worse than expected. That she found out about her father’s secret debt was after she had received the Duke’s invitation.
“I have to thank… him, right?”
Chloe sighed quietly as she looked at the invitation she tried to disregard. As soon as the sisters arrived at their aunt’s home after hearing the news, an image of Aunt Tabatha making a fuss had appeared in her head. Being invited to his party, which would be hosted at Rose Castle, came with two days of “Oh, you must be honored to attend Duke Teece’s splendid party.” Of course, Chloe didn’t intend to reject her words. To the daughters of a poor viscount living on a tiny estate in the southwest region of the kingdom, sending an invitation to a party could also be considered as payback of the debt they owed during the war.
It was unknown whether he knew about Alice’s incident from last year. For now, however, Alice’s reputation would go up through the single fact that she had received an invitation from him. If word got out that she had connections with him, she would get a lot of attention from many aristocrats, increasing the possibility of her finding a good potential husband tomorrow. However, Chloe was concerned. Swan’s rose-scented summer wind, instead of freshness, left a strange feeling behind. After closing and locking the loud rattling door Alice turned around.
“Let me check your leg. Is it hereditary?”
Her cane leaning calmly on the wall suddenly fell to the floor with a thud. Chloe looked down at the rolling cane as she gently bit her lip. Even after all this time, she could not forget his cold voice.
“If you operate through emotion, you’re destined to lose. Just like if you let emotions get in the way of order, you can lose a battle.”
“Sir, I am not a soldier in a battle.”
Chloe staggered up, missing the point of his words. Slowly approaching while stepping on the fallen petals, Duke Teece bowed his head and made eye contact with her.
“As long as you’re alive, life itself is a battle. For people like you especially, it’s harder.”
“Even so, there is no reason for you to interfere with my life, Duke Teece.”
“You call this interfering? I’m only giving you advice, but seeing that you don’t even thank me I guess you’re pretty torn up inside.”
The young duke smiled at Chloe, who opened her eyes wide to prevent herself from crying. Though beautiful like a gift from the heavens, it was a smile she did not want to meet again. From that moment, she understood the words ‘the devil is beautiful’ for the first time.
That winter, three years ago, a tiny estate in Swanton Kingdom’s southwest region suddenly became active. It was because of this the 3rd Royal Army, which had retreated from the war, stayed there to reorganize the battle lines. Viscount Verdier, the owner of the small castle on the estate, was willing to open the gates for the soldiers and commanders.
In this war that continued much longer than expected, soldiers were terribly exhausted and had become sensitive and grumpy due to difficulties in the battles. Inside the castle, cries from the injured were constantly heard, and those who were uninjured also walked around with half-charred faces, threatening the others. Eventually turning it into a hospital and barracks, the Viscount provided as much supplies and food as possible for them in his castle.
He had two daughters. Alice, the younger one, was studying in the capital city of Swan; his older daughter Chloe has never left the castle since she was young, due to health issues. Chloe also claimed to play a role in nursing injured soldiers, along with her father’s own efforts to help them as much as possible with a positive attitude. Some injured soldiers mistook Chloe for a servant that spared no effort in dire situations, and they sometimes talked harshly to her. When one of them called her a cripple, Gray, another helper, grabbed him by the collar.
“Don’t do that, Gray. Isn’t it true?”
The reason Chloe tried to stop him was that the ones talking bad about her were severely injured and sensitive. Her mother, up until her death, had emphasized to her: “Helping the poor and injured is an aristocrat’s duty, Chloe.” Though she had a disability, she had learned not only the knowledge of aristocratic spirituality from an early age but also how to hide her agitated emotions and maintain calmness.
“Chloe, how about letting the other helpers take over?”
However, she decided to listen to her father when he brought that up with mixed feelings on his face. It hurt her to see the noticeably grim change in her father’s face when the soldiers talked rudely about her. They stayed in the castle for about half a month. And for the final five days, Chloe quietly stayed in her room to read. She couldn’t fully concentrate, however, as the ruffling and shuffling of feet outside her door weren’t completely shut off. Whenever they sometimes said bad words about the enemy troops or made distasteful s*x jokes about her, she shut the curtains and loudly played a melody on her piano.
That night. The night she met Duke Teece for the first time was an exceptionally quiet one. Normally it was noisy until the campfire keeping everyone at the barracks warm went out, but for some reason, a strange silence began to flow among the soldiers from noon that day.
Chloe lifted her head at the sound of someone’s loud voice coming through the window where she was reading. When she pulled the curtain back a little and looked out, someone was seen walking out of the backyard of the torch-lit castle.