Our trip to the capital, Ortessa, took us just under a month or so.
The road there wasn’t easy. Multiple times we were assaulted by bandits or monsters. Unlike the Magocracy, Marchen’s roads didn’t seem to be as well-maintained as it could be. I dispatched them easily however, by just summoning my owlbear. I didn’t even need to cast any spells.
Poor Erika, however, was so terrified of them that I was afraid it would turn into a trauma. I had to calm her down, saying that she had nothing to fear as her big sister was here, protecting her.
Eventually though, she started to grow used to it, hearing the roars of monsters or the jeers of bandits and the screams they would let out once I unleashed my owlbear at them. For a three year old to be used by them though, I couldn’t help but feel something was lost in the process.
This trip… it might just ruin her childhood innocence.
Another thing she was getting used to was our parents’ deaths. She no longer had nightmares of them, resulting in dry bedsheets once again. However, instead of being happy and proud that she no longer needed her nighttime diapers, she remained silent. She was like that through most of the trip, staring to the distance with a melancholic look on her face. It broke my heart seeing her like that.
I tried to cheer her up many times, resulting in the occasional smiles and even laughs, but she quickly returned to her somber self.
I couldn’t blame her. Even I, who was already an adult, felt this constant hollowness in my heart that erased whatever smiles I might make. I only smiled at Erika these days, and some of it was forced, just to cheer her up.
And on top of all that, there was still something else that made me worry about her.
And that was the fact that she seemed to grow hateful towards Hugo.
She would compare me to him, saying how I was here protecting her while Hugo ran away. She even started to call him a coward. And a pervert as well. To my horror, she somehow knew of the fact that he kept my panties and Sherry’s in a box.
“Erika, it’s not like that. Sherry and I gave our panties willingly to him. He didn’t steal them from us. And he might have run away but it’s just because his kind heart blamed himself for Father and Mother’s death.” I tried to persuade her.
“He promised… he promised he would keep them safe…” Her voice shook. “And yet… and yet after he failed, instead of apologizing to me, he ran away instead. Mother always said to keep your promises, and Father always said to apologize immediately if you’ve done something wrong. And he doesn’t do any of them!” She ended with a shout.
“Erika, you have to understand, Hugo is—”
“You’re just defending him because you love him!” she continued, unabated. “That’s why you gave him your panties! And that’s why Sherry gave hers as well!”
“Of course I love him!” I shouted back. “I love him just like I love you! He’s my dear little brother and you’re my dear little sister! I don’t want to hear you badmouthing him like this!”
“You’re blind, Sis! Mother said that when I got older, I shouldn’t be blinded by love like the heroine from The Fall of Princess Lilum! And that’s what you’re doing right now! You don’t see his glaring flaws like I do!”
The Fall of Princess Lilum was a book about a stubborn princess who falls in love with a bard that serenaded her with love letters and poems. She ignored every single advice she got, from her father, her tutor, her maid, and even her stable boy, that the bard wasn’t to be trusted. She eloped with said bard, only to end up being murdered by him as he was revealed to be an assassin from a neighboring, conflicting country.
It was yet another moralistic tale that scared children to listen to their elders. I didn’t know why Mother decided to read it to her. Or maybe she read it by herself and then went to Mother to ask about it afterwards?
But to compare Hugo to a man that played with a young girl’s heart like that, I couldn’t just take it lying down.
“Don’t say that!” Before I realized it, I started to shout back. “Hugo has worked hard to save me! If not for him, then I wouldn’t be here with you! I would still be there, up on that cold mountain back at the Magocracy! He might have his flaws but we all do!”
“Then admit that he’s a pervert and a coward!” she responded with passion.
“I won’t! He’s a brave little gentleman! He’s just too kindhearted for his own good, that’s all!” I shouted back, giving my own passionate reply.
In the end, the argument never got resolved, with each of us staying stubborn to our own versions of him. It led to a silent strike by her for a few days. And after that, I decided never to bring up the subject again.
Erika is a stubborn girl, just like me and Mother. The only way she’s going to love her brother back if he actually appears right in front of her and begs her for forgiveness. I have no doubt her hardening heart would melt once he does.
You really are an idiot, Hugo, by running away like that…
Ortessa was located right beside a large lake called by the same name. It pooled water from the Gordillis Peaks and then sent it down towards the southern coast. The locals would use it mostly as a recreational spot, with wealthy people building villas and summer houses there.
Ortessa itself was a walled city, and a heavily populated one. Although compared to Mira, I think it’s still smaller in size.
Erika insisted to sit beside me once we approached the city. I couldn’t blame her. The city, the lake, and the surrounding plains—all made for a really good scenery.
“Look, Sis! It’s a lake!” She pointed while laughing, her blonde hair swaying on the wind.
Oh Erika. I smiled, patting her on the head. You really are like an adorable little angel when you are cheerful like this.
We entered the city without a hitch, and we headed straight to the address the Baron had given to me. I decided to trust him in the end. After all, he was Father’s friend, and I could tell that he was genuinely upset by his death. And the way his maids talked about him, even if he might have an odd hobby of collecting hobbit maids like that, he was a kind person.
And besides, I also wished to meet with this Glinda. If she truly disliked the Magocracy like the baron said, then I believe the baron wanted me to make an alliance of sorts with her.
One day, I would clash with the Magocracy once more. And when that day came, if I could obtain her support, it would be a great boon to me. Especially if she could mobilize Marchen as a whole to stand against that nation.
A relationship built on fear couldn’t last for long. And the way the Magocracy had operated, with how they destroyed Ledo, I have no doubt there are elements in Marchen that would want to see the Magocracy weakened.
The mansion was located right outside the castle. A nifty arrangement for the court mage, I suppose, allowing her to go home whenever she wanted.
A pair of guards stood before the closed gate, halting the carriage.
“Greetings.” I gave them a salute. “I have business with Lady Glinda Fernwood. And I already have an introduction letter from her older brother, Baron Eriol Fernwood.” I handed them the letter.
At first, they didn’t believe me. But the moment they saw the seal and read its content, their attitude changed 180 degrees. They immediately apologized for stopping us before opening the gate, allowing us to enter. One of them also ran inside in a rush, no doubt to send a message to the other servants that we were coming.
After passing through the gate, which were quickly closed behind us, we were greeted by the sight of a garden. Not too large but definitely well-kept. I guided the horses on the paved road, taking care that they didn’t munch on any of the hedge fences.
I stopped the carriage near the front door before a valet took it to be parked in the stables.
We were greeted by a dark-haired man with a goatee. If I had to guess, he was in his thirties. He introduced himself as Alec, the head butler of the establishment.
“Welcome, Miss.” He bowed with his right hand placed on his left chest. “Please, follow me.”
He led us inside the mansion. As usual, Erika kept her hand interlocked with mine.
We first entered the vestibule, a small room with well-furnished sofas placed to the left and right, no doubt intended to be used by visitors as they waited for the receiving servant to call them in. Just from the existence of this room, I could sense the difference between the baron and his little sister. The baron welcomed visitors, while the court mage seemed to be more of the reserved type, preferring visitors to not enter her domain unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Or maybe I was just overthinking it, and this was just how the mansion was when the king gave it to her.
We didn’t stop here though. We continued inside into the main hall, where there was a large and elegant spiral staircase going upwards. It nearly reminded me of Vera’s mansion, only that the stairs there were straight.
“I have read the letter,” the butler said as we walked. “And so you might use one of our guest rooms to rest. No doubt it had been a long and tiring trip, all the way from Lord Eriol’s place.” I nodded. “Then, please don’t hesitate to employ the maids I have assigned there. Ask them anything you wish if it would make your stay more comfortable. The mistress would most likely join you in the evening, after she finished her duties at the castle. Do not fret. I have sent a messenger to her.”
I guess we’re going to get pampered like nobles once more.
How funny. It’s as if we go back and forth from being rich to being poor and then being rich again.
“Oh, I would have to ask for Miss to not traverse anywhere on the second and third floor. Mistress Glinda is very particular that no one should ever go there unless they have obtained expressed permission from her first.” He bowed again.
Second and third floor? I guess as a mage, she might have an alchemy laboratory there. Or a library filled with her personal research. And naturally, her bedroom would be there too. I wouldn’t want any stranger to just waltz into my personal rooms like that as well.
He then led me to the east wing of the mansion, to where the guest rooms were located. They didn’t seem to be vacated. I always wondered why aristocrats and wealthy people in general would have so many empty rooms like this. Feels like a waste to me.
The moment we entered however, we saw a sight that completely took us off-guard.
A butt. There was a butt hanging on mid-air. A small yet ample butt, clad in yellow and white stripes.
I looked away and saw that it belonged to a girl dressed in a maid uniform. She was busy cleaning the back of the sofa, to the point that she had to bend over extremely like that, so that she could reach the very bottom with her duster. But the fact that she was standing on the sofa, thankfully with her white socks, leaving her black shoes on the carpet, I couldn’t help but wonder if this girl wasn’t that bright in the head.
“Uwawawawa, it’s so far… I can’t reach it…”
Thanks to her skirt being uncharastically short, she was flashing her panties at us. And she didn’t seem to notice our presence either.
The girl yelped, and it led to her actually falling down headfirst into the gap between the wall and the sofa in the most comical manner.
“H-help! I-I can’t get out!”
Her legs were now flying up and down, back and forth, as she tried to free herself.
“Merkel! Fantina! Where in the blazes are you two?” He yelled again.
“Yeess, coming~” A melodious feminine voice replied inside the door on the other end of the room. Even though he said this was a guest room, this was pretty much a small suite as it had a living room, the one we were currently in, and the bedroom, which should be just beyond that door.
“C-coming!” This time around, the voice sounded much more timid than the other two.
In the meantime, the butler rescued the stuck maid from her precarious position by pulling her legs. He didn’t seem to care in the slightest that the maid was flashing her undergarments to him. A mature adult like him probably already has a lover or even a wife. A young girl like her wouldn’t excite him in the slightest.
Soon enough, two other maids popped out from the inner room. Leading the charge was a black-haired girl, all happy and smiling. Behind her was a brown-haired girl, looking as if she was about to be executed. In many ways they were opposite of each other, including even their bodies. The black-haired one was a slim, well-endowed young lady, while the brown-haired one was short and pudgy.
“Why did you two leave Heydel alone? She just embarrassed all of us in front of our visitor!” The head butler resumed his yelling. Gone was his calm demeanor from just a few moments ago, vanishing to the wind.
“P-please don’t scold them! I-it’s my fault, Mr. Alec!” The clumsy maid bowed as far as she could. She had short brown hair similar to her pudgy friend, only hers was lighter. Unlike the other two, her maid skirt only reached down to her upper knees, which led to the unfortunate display from before. Accompanying that was a pair of white socks that reached up her thighs.
If I had to say, clumsy girl here was about 12 or so, while her two friends were around my age, with the slim one slightly older.
Noticing me, she let out a small “Eek!” before bowing towards me as well. “P-please forgive me for my unsightly display, Miss!”
I sighed, before replying with a smile. “It’s alright. Accidents happen after all.”
I really wasn’t insulted in the slightest by her showing her unmentionables like that. I wasn’t a prude after all. When a girl wore skirts, she would no doubt show her panties from time to time. Even long skirts could still be blown up in the wind if it’s strong enough. As a fellow skirt wearer, I would be a liar if I hadn’t caught short once in a while.
In her case though, it was not the wind to blame but her own clumsiness.
Seeing my indifferent reaction seemed to have calmed down the head butler as well. However, it didn’t stop him from asking me to give him some time to discipline the three before letting them serve me, so I let him “borrow” them for a short while. I hoped he wouldn’t be too harsh on them.
Tired after a long trip, I didn’t hesitate to rest my body on the soft and fluffy bed, with Erika beside me.
“Sis… we’re going to have those three around when we’re here?” she asked with a look that said she would rather have them stand outside instead.
I smiled as I patted her head, playing with her hair that had grown longer ever since we departed from home. “You don’t like maids, Erika?”
“No… I don’t wanna be dressed and bathed. I can do it by myself…”
Of course, I already knew that was the case. It was the same with the maids back at the baron’s house.
“It’s alright. I don’t like it much either. But just like before, we’ll only be staying here for a short while. I’ll meet the mistress of this mansion and then we’ll be back on our way. Just think of this as a luxury inn we’re staying in, alright?”
“Alright…” She nodded reluctantly.
We stayed like that for a while, with Erika snuggling to me, until a knock sounded on the door.
“Miss!“ It was the voice of the clumsy maid. She was both yelling and whispering at the same time. “May we come in?”
I imagined if I said nothing, they would just leave us on our own, probably in the belief that we were resting. You would be a bad maid if you interrupt your master’s rest after all.
“Yes, please come,” I replied, sitting up, to Erika’s dismay. She was starting to get sleepy, and was just about to slumber to dreamland when this rude interruption happened.
The three maids entered, and they immediately bowed in unison, apologizing for the incident from before.
“Haven’t I told you that it’s fine?” I replied. “Please, lift your heads. I’m just a passerby. I would leave quite soon enough.”
The three then proceeded to introduce themselves.
“And I’m—” I stopped myself. I don’t think it’s wise for me to use my real name. “You can call me Clarisse. And this little one is Sharon.”
“But I’m not—”
“Shh…” I immediately stopped Erika from correcting me with a whisper. “We’re playing pretend now.”
Thankfully, the three maids didn’t sense that there was anything amiss. After giving their introductions, they then asked whether we needed anything. I replied with a no, and told them that we wished to rest and not to be disturbed.
And with that, the three of them retreated, leaving Erika and I to our comfortable solitude once more.