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Chapter 36

“Isella, what are you doing over there?”

“…N-Nothing.”

Isella got startled when Carynne called out to her, but at the same time, she came to her senses and quickly jumped out from behind the tree. She had been so deeply immersed in her thoughts that she didn’t notice other people passing by.

“Where did Sir Raymond go?”

“He went on to the forest along with the other men for the hunt. It’s been a while since he left. Have you just been there this whole time? We were looking for you earlier.”

“…Something like that.”

Lies.

No matter how much Isella had been far from them, there’s no way she wouldn’t hear her if she was being called. It was obvious that Carynne left Isella alone to increase the time she could wag her tail at Raymond.

As Isella glanced at Carynne, she walked forward to stand beside her.

You think I don’t know what you’re up to?

Without noticing Isella staring a hole at the back of her head, Carynne was inspecting the traps around her while also checking the table setting of the maids. Isella approached Carynne.

“So it seems you’re interested in hunting, Miss Carynne.”

“Yes, though not that much… The mountainous region here is dense, so there are many animals that could be hunted. Even if we make all the preparations we can every year, there’s always some people getting hurt at the festival’s large-scale hunt.”

“What kind of animals are there?”

“All kinds of ones. Bears, wolves, foxes… At this time of the year, the bears are very irritable, so you have to be adept at hunting them. A lot of people have fallen victim to bear attacks.”

“Then isn’t this place a dangerous area, too?”

Isella suddenly felt a chill as she looked around her surroundings. The forest was thick, and it was dark around them like it was already nighttime. The trees were numerous and there was no visible path.

Where Carynne and Isella were, the trees had been cut to create a clearing, but Isella was suddenly so worried that a bear might come out of the dark and attack them.

“It’s alright. We’ve set up enough traps and there are plenty of people here to protect us. It’s not that dangerous. Even animals don’t come out when they can sense danger.”

The animals were nothing to worry about since they also tended to avoid people. Carynne assured Isella like this, but she couldn’t hide her apprehension when Raymond wasn’t here beside her.

All the attendants and maids here were Carynne’s people, not Isella’s.

Even so, Isella willed herself to be braver. She knew that being anxious would just fuel her rampant imagination.

“If the animals come, they’ll be caught in the traps right away. You have nothing to be scared about.”

Carynne smiled at Isella. And Isella didn’t like seeing this. It seemed like Carynne was looking down at her from a higher place.

Soon, Isella turned around and walked through the bushes. She wanted to arrange her clothes. She was feeling stuffy because the corset she had beneath her equestrian outfit was too tight. She needed to at least loosen the knot at the end.

“I’m not scared.”

“I see. Still, don’t go out too far.”

“Carynne, stop trying to poke your nose into other people’s business!” Isella shrieked out of frustration.

“If you go any further, your ankle will get chopped right off.”

“……!”

Isella stopped in her tracks. A snare was right in front of her on the ground.

“Why didn’t you tell me that first? How… How dangerous!”

“I told you just now though?”

Carynne shrugged. But Isella couldn’t even laugh it off. The blades of the trap were so sharp that her ankle really could have gotten snapped off. Certainly, she could have lost her foot.

How can Carynne be so blasé about this? But it was difficult for Isella to talk to the other people around. All the maids looked at the two young women side by side, a pitiful look directed at her.

“…I’ll fix my clothes in the carriage.”

“Alright. I’ll help you.”

Carynne followed Isella into the carriage. Isella didn’t like it, but there was no other choice.

Ka-chak.

The carriage door was shut behind them, and now Carynne was behind Isella. Carynne’s fingers unfastened the clasp behind Isella’s equestrian suit. As she was undressed slowly, one finger touched her back.

“……”

It felt terrible.

Cold fingers touched her back. Strangely, Isella felt that Carynne’s touch was unpleasant despite how careful it was. It felt like worms were crawling on her skin.

Why did she despise Carynne so much? Was it because Raymond showed that much interest in her? Of course, that would only be natural. But that didn’t explain the goosebumps rising over her skin right now.

“Isella, should I redo the ties of your corset?”

“…Yes, please do so.”

Isella endured.

Perhaps it’s because it’s that time of the month. Isella had a particularly severe case of period pains. Just yesterday, she suffered from headaches and some pain in her lower back. Of course, she also suffered from abdominal cramps throughout her period. It was like that now, too.

“…Please, a bit more… gently.”

“Yeees.”

It’s strange.

Isella had goosebumps all over.

Isella had a regular menstrual cycle. And that time was soon. It’s natural for her to suffer from premenstrual syndrome, and she was familiar with the symptoms.

But when she thought of that day, she recalled the blood that shouldn’t have been there yet.

“There’s blood on your bed and your skirt though?”

Wait.

Isella didn’t think much of it because this was what Carynne said. It looked like Isella made a mistake. It happened so suddenly that she couldn’t ask about it. Did Carynne really see blood on her skirt? But…

“All done.”

Isella’s skirt had blood on it, the bed had blood on it, but her undergarments somehow didn’t have it. It was during that night when Isella saw the corpse of the black maid—no, when she thought she saw the corpse. She had tried not to think about it deeply while she stared at her cleanly washed skirt.

But still, Isella couldn’t get rid of this nagging feeling. At that time, Isella also thought that she was having period cramps, but the next day, there was no trace of it on her clothes. That time also didn’t align with her menstrual cycle. She had convinced herself that it was period blood, but it actually was not.

That blood wasn’t her own blood. It was someone else’s, and it had soaked her clothes and bed entirely.

She couldn’t even say it was just someone else’s—there could only be one person. That woman named Nancy, the one who had always been with Carynne before.

“…Carynne, um… How is Donna? The new maid who’s attending to you.”

“Donna?”

Carynne tilted her head to the side, looking genuinely perplexed. But soon, a smile graced her features.

“She’s a good kid.”

Why?

Isella couldn’t understand. That woman was the maid who was in charge of her before and was with her all day long. When she woke up in the morning, that made would be there to help her dress up and accessorize. The maid would help with every little thing while she was next to her master, until it was time for bed.

But allegedly, at that awkward dinner, Carynne conveyed how sad she was that Nancy suddenly left like that. That was the first time Isella officially heard that Nancy had disappeared.

Why was Carynne fine?

The woman remained by her side all day, all throughout the years suddenly disappeared without saying anything. But then Carynne changed maids just like that without kicking up a fuss? Isella raised such a commotion when only one necklace had gone missing. Of course, she would have done more if one of her maids disappeared. Because that maid belonged to Isella. The maid was her property.

“Donna’s quite nice and cute.”

While smiling, Carynne opened the carriage door. The attendant who was standing outside helped her out. In a daze, Isella stared blankly at Carynne’s back.

The maid, who’d done nothing but take care of Carynne for such a long time, suddenly disappeared, and she didn’t care.

Carynne was kind even to that clumsy new maid of hers, so it didn’t make sense that she could be so cold. She was kind to everyone, even to the servants. But why… Why did it seem like she absolutely didn’t care about Nancy’s disappearance?

Isella’s insides felt all twisted up.

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