༺ The Lord Is With Us (24) ༻
Elsie was in a good mood ever since she left Ian’s hospital room.
It was the first time in her life that she genuinely held affection for someone other than her younger brother as well as the first time that her worth was proven by someone willingly sacrificing themselves to save her.
If enmity and resentment were flames that gnawed away at oneself, affection was akin to the spring sun that energized everything under its shine. It made the world more vibrant.
It broke down the walls around her heart.
It loosened her stiff expression and it even made her blurt out stupid sounds like ‘Heh…’ without even realizing what she was doing. She even merrily started humming songs, something she never did before.
Elsie found Ian to be extremely reliable as he was both physically and mentally stronger than her. Then, at some point, whenever she stood in front of him, she turned into her younger, weaker self – the ugly side of her that she constantly tried to deny and keep under wraps.
However, he even embraced that side of her. He affirmed and protected her.
The joy of being accepted and validated became engraved in her heart.
Everyone desired to be recognized by their superiors. Her parents had withheld their love just because she was small, but similar cases were commonplace within high nobility. Children were regarded as mere tools for the family’s continued prosperity. They were there to continue the lineage or even used as political chess pieces. And if they were considered useless, they were simply disregarded like She had been in the past.
Elsie didn’t hold much affection for her parents who condoned her siblings’ actions as they bullied her. Now, she simply maintained a love-and-hate relationship with her parents as she showed only the basic filial piety as their kid.
Rather, Ian’s approval of her had become more important to her. She wasn’t exactly sure when it began, but she found herself wanting to stay by his side since the day of the Hunting Festival.
Then, she was struck with those words while her feelings were in such a state.
That was his response when she had asked him why he had saved her. It reflected his desire to save her without any calculating intentions. He didn’t consider how he could benefit or suffer from saving her. That made him seem more reliable in her eyes.
It meant that, at some point, she had become such an existence to him. That although it might not be as much as he did hers, she had become an existence that claimed a small place in the corner of his heart. From there, all she had to do was gradually expand her space within his heart, and with time, she hoped that the unidentifiable feeling that was slowly getting bigger would reveal its true color.
Her sudden drastic change from her usually cold and threatening behavior was noticed by the many people around her.
The first to notice was the children, who were always mindful of the adults around them.
Two days ago, she was growling and grunting at the kids in frustration, but now, she humming around with a smile decorating her face.
They didn’t know why, but it was clear to them that she looked happier.
It was to the extent that she nonchalantly brushed off their mischievous jokes, which she previously would have responded to angrily. Before long, the children crowded around Elsie and burst into merry laughter.
Although as part of the upper nobility, she would normally have been the furthest from interacting with them, the children were still ignorant of the complicated world of adults. They held a pure perspective of the world. They were only aware of things they either saw or heard, and in their eyes, Elsie felt the most familiar as she was physically similar to them.
She was short and looked young. Her cute and lovely appearance was popular with everyone regardless of their gender. Her only flaw was her difficult personality, but after meeting Ian, even her personality changed for the better.
That day, Elsie completed all sorts of chores while rearing the kids along. She cleaned the place and even did the dishes.
Her suddenly cooperative attitude surprised Gilford and Yuren among many others, and whenever somebody asked her why she was in such a cheerful mood, she proudly responded with a short phrase – “Just because!”
There was one woman in particular who noticed Elsie’s dramatic change.
It was Delphine Yurdina, the heiress of the Yurdina.
It was well-known that she and Elsie had an antagonistic rivalry, but the reason behind it was unknown. There wasn’t any resentment between the two noble families nor a specific incident that instigated their hostile relationship.
They simply started distancing themselves from each other after some point in time. As a matter of fact, even the two didn’t fully know the reason why as well.
They simply didn’t like each other, and as a result, their relationship soured enough to become the Academy’s most infamous rivals.
The fact that both of them were stubborn and possessed an unyielding temperament likely played a part. However, hate was another form of interest, and Delphine had always kept a close eye on Elsie.
That was how she was able to quickly realize that Elsie was in an exceptionally good mood.
Even now, it was clear as day.
Elsie was wearing an unusually joyful look. She was giggling to herself with a smile, and she was even blushing as if she were thinking of someone.
It was inevitable that Delphine’s mood worsened the more her rival’s mood improved.
Then, after staring at Elsie with disgust, she soon thought up a wonderful solution.
If Elsie was in a good mood, all she had to do was trample all over her and ruin it.
Delphine figured she would feel better if she did. And so, she resolutely moved her feet the moment she made her decision.
It was something like a long-standing cycle at this point.
Whenever Delphine looked to be in a good mood, Elsie would pick a fight and vice versa. It had become commonplace within the Academy and everyone simply accepted their antagonistic relationship as a matter of course.
That was why whenever either of them was in a good mood, they tried to avoid each other, and if they happened to run into each other, their faces naturally scrunched up in frowns.
As per usual, Delphine stood proudly in front of Elsie.
She assumed that Elsie, who was carrying several cups on water on a tray, would look up dubiously before frowning when she realized it was her.
Yes, that was how it had to be.
But, to her confusion, Elsie merely glanced at her for a moment before avoiding her and going on her way while humming an upbeat tune.
For a minute, Delphine thought she saw a sneer on Elsie’s lips.
Delphine’s crimson eyes grew bitter. No matter how much she thought about it, she couldn’t figure out the reason for Elsie’s reaction.
Delphine quietly growled out to Elsie.
Elsie put down the tray on the table and replied in a relaxed tone. There wasn’t even the slightest hint of hostility in her voice.
But that only made Delphine feel worse. She felt like she was being ignored – that her rival didn’t think much of her.
“You seem to be in a good mood today.”
“Really? I guess it’s cause I am.”
Normally, by this point, Elsie would have grated on her nerves with her high-pitched voice, but Elsie remained composed.
Intrigued, Delphine narrowed her eyes.
It was a drastic change. It was clear something of significance had happened. Delphine decided to test Elsie’s reaction, half out of interest and half with bad intentions.
“Are you used to doing the chores now? You look like a maid.”
“Even a maid changes depending on who she’s serving.”
“A maid serving commoners? So classy of you.”
Delphine snorted in derision. This much was genuine.
Elsie, the daughter and prodigy of the lofty Rinella family, was now claiming to be a maid. It would have been a lie if she thought it wasn’t funny.
‘Even the last bit of her pride must have shattered.’
Delphine mused to herself.
Her rival was proud of being a high noble. She thought there was no way Elsie would stand the provocations that she was throwing her way.
But even then, Elsie didn’t show much of a reaction. All that showed on her face was a little annoyance.
Elsie’s sapphire-blue eyes briefly lingered on Delphine before looking back at the table where she placed her cups.
“……Does it really matter if there’s someone you sincerely want to follow? Look at the bigger picture. We nobles are just mere servants serving His Majesty the Emperor.”
An important clue was contained within her words. It would have been a blessing for the Rinella family if their miscreant daughter had learned to love the people, but judging from her words, it was unlikely for that to be the case.
She had mentioned ‘His Majesty the Emperor’, an expression unique in explicitly referring to a superior. The fact she subconsciously used those particular words hinted to why she wasn’t reluctant in calling herself a maid
Delphine didn’t miss this detail and her crimson eyes lit up in an instant.
“So, who could possibly be ‘His Majesty the Emperor’ to Elsie Rinella?”
Startled, Elsie momentarily froze. It was an extremely brief moment, but it didn’t escape Delphine’s eyes as a small smile spread across her face.
‘That’s right. There’s no way you would change on your own.’
“……Hmph, what are you talking about? The Rinella family was and will always be loyal vassals of His Majesty the Emperor.”
“Aren’t you well aware that it’s just a metaphor? I’m just a little curious because you seem to have changed drastically.”
Elsie sent a displeased glare at Delphine before quickly turning her head away.
Elsie’s mood seemed to have soured. Delphine could have stopped there, having accomplished her goal, but she had already become invested in this new turn of events.
Delphine momentarily pondered who Elsie Rinella would possibly follow to that extent. And as long as one wasn’t an idiot, they would have easily realized the answer right away.
There was only one person that Elsie was docile and felt indebted to.
The name of the monster that engraved defeat into her body and shattered her pride popped up.
Elsie’s arm, which was wiping the table with a rag, came to a sudden halt. And not a moment too late, her eyes turned to Delphine with razor-sharp hostility.
Delphine finally felt ecstatic.
‘Yeah, that’s it. That’s the Elsie Rinella I know.’
“It can’t be. Right, Rinella? You need to wake up… Not only is he ruthless, he’s the guy who assaulted and threatened you.”
“…….I was the one in the wrong at that time.”
Hearing that, Delphine’s lips twisted into a mocking smile.
‘This stupid Elsie. She basically confirmed it.’
Delphine found the whole thing even more ridiculous. What did it matter that they were in the wrong? They were part of the upper nobility – people who could do whatever they wanted.
In turn, they bore that much more responsibility on their shoulders. They also had to live desperately since everything was over the moment they were defeated.
Wasn’t Elsie Rinella the one who lived her life by this rule more than anyone else?
Delphine determined that this was Elsie’s downfall. She shook her head while thinking that Elsie was pathetic.
“That’s just winner’s logic. No one is innocent if we nitpick on who was originally at fault. Wasn’t he also the one who beat up your beloved younger brother first?”
Elsie kept quiet, simply keeping her cold gaze trained on Delphine.
Delphine failed to hold back as she scoffed.
“Pfft, haha… So you forgot all about avenging your little brother and chose to become the maid of that Hatchet Murderer? I wonder what your little brother would say when he sees you. I’m really looking for-”
It was right at that moment.
Water splattered everywhere with a loud splash.
Suddenly struck by water, Delphine’s eyes widened in stupefaction as she blankly stood there.
Elsie had picked up a glass of water from the table before promptly emptying the cup onto her face.
It was the first time in her life that she had been humiliated like this, and she failed to comprehend what had just happened. Reality didn’t click fast enough to even get angry.
She could only move her mouth wordlessly as water dripped down her face.
Elsie growled at Delphine with murderous eyes.
“…….Who do you think you are to talk shit about Sir Ian?”
Ignoring the stunned girl who was dripping wet, Elsie took off her wide-brimmed hat while clenching her teeth.
She moved her delicate hands to tuck her hair behind her ears as a heated breath left her mouth.
“This fucking bitch.”
It was clear to everyone present that she was genuinely angry.
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