Chapter 14 – The Color of Yuliana’s Eyes (2)
The further she walked, the more difficult it was to hear the rest of their conversation as the wind picked up a little. But she had heard enough, My eyes…?, she thought. What about my eyes? Are they different from Yuliana’s?
She strained to hear what they were saying and pretended to stumble. She heard Quentin reply diplomatically.
“Yes, even red, they were very charming”, he said.
Quentin’s comment was followed by a burst of what sounded like laughter. Or was it the shriek of the wind?
Gris was shivering violently by the time she got back to the room. She needed a hot bath to warm herself up. As usual, it took some time to convince Bellin she didn’t need her help to take a bath, but their daily charade had became part of the grooming ritual and both women accepted that as routine.
However, she was still agitated after the warming bath. She couldn’t help revisit over and over why he had mentioned her eye color. Maybe there was a reason, or perhaps she was overthinking it.
She returned to her room with a heavy heart. She had planned on resting before dinner, but someone was already waiting. It was Stephan, who had just returned from his trip.
Gris expected to see him sooner or later. She suspected he had rushed back when he heard that Vianut had returned victorious, to protect the fiction he had created about Yuliana.
“You have returned, Marquis Talsbarg.”
Standing behind Gris was the housekeeper who greeted Stephan tenderly. Both Bellin and the housekeeper curtsied and then stood waiting for further instructions. Stephan looked out the window and said,
“I would like to speak privately with Miss Yuliana.”
Gris’ heart jumped. Her face ashen, Gris closed the door behind her after the servants had exited the room. She felt her heart pounding and the anxiety growing. Stephan, however, was calm and looking at her reflection in the window said softly, “You look much better than the last time I saw you.”
I have been sleeping long hours since my arrival, she rehearsed in her head.
“Well… I have been looked after by Bellin and the staff, and the surroundings are restorative,” Gris answered cautiously.
Stephan turned squarely to face Gris.
“You won’t have to go back there again. I’ve paid the price of your servitude to the Owner.”
Did this mean that she now belonged to him? He wanted to keep her in Byrenhag Mansion to achieve his ambitions. But Gris didn’t want to be part of his plan; she wanted her freedom.
“Thank you for your concern, but… I am prepared to go back to the brothel, Sir. I don’t belong here.
When Stephan heard this, he scanned her face to try to understand her meaning.
“Your grandmother skipped her meals and retreated to her room when Yuliana went missing. Her health declined drastically. Now that she’s ten years older, it will only be a matter of time before she passes away.”
“But now that you reappeared, she has started to eat, little by little. She now has a reason to live. She is pugnacious and wants to find out if you really are Yuliana. And if you are, she will feel it’s her duty to marry you off well.”
Stephan was implying that it was better for Paola to die happy than to know the truth. So, playing this game was not a bad thing. But if Paola discovered the truth, she would be devastated.
“I’m just not confident that I….”
“I am only trying to find a way to restore my mother’s health and her will to live. That is the most important thing to me.
“If you help me, I will take you to the church of Byrenhag”, Stephan finally said.
“…Then take me there first,” Gris said. She couldn’t help but wonder if he would keep his word to her.
Stephan found it ridiculous that this prostitute, no matter how beautiful, was trying to negotiate with him. He paid for her life, who was she now to be demanding from him?
“Aren’t you a funny little girl?” he smirked.
“I saw Sir Byrenhag today,” said Gris, trying to change the subject.
Stephan leaned against the window frame. “So, I have heard”, he said.
He was curious about her conversation with Vianut. But Gris only remembered that severed head hanging off his saddle.
“He showed up with a human head tied to a horse. His metal armor was covered in blood. More importantly, he didn’t seem pleased that his long-lost sister had returned,” she stated impassively, gauging Stephan’s reactions.
This comment didn’t seem to surprise Stephan.
“The head would be for the King, his Majesty’s pleasure. Vianut is the King’s favorite pet,” he replied.
A favorite pet. Why was Stephan describing his superior, Sir Byrenhag, like an animal?
Gris nervously tucked her hair behind her ears and carefully studied Stephan’s face.
Compared to the other men at the Byrenhags, Stephan was thin and elegant. He didn’t look as if he would know how to handle a sword. With his reading glasses clipped to his waistcoat, he seemed to be more scholarly.
But maybe he was the bookish type because he couldn’t and didn’t want to become a soldier. Was he frightened of going into battle and, therefore, made excuses that he had a loftier mission? Gris became more and more convinced that this was the case.
Looking at Stephan, Gris suddenly thought of what Vianut had said earlier.
“Sir Byrenhag pointed out the color of my eyes. Yuliana’s eyes, what color were they?”