Not the answer I had expected. I was sure that she’d be delighted. I knew I’d need a new dress and jewelry to go to a ball. I could wear something I already had, but most noblewomen would at least alter a dress that had been worn previously by changing the ribbons, for example, to give it a fresh look. This did not apply to less affluent families, of course. So, whenever there was a grand ball, queues would form outside popular boutiques and jewelers, and some would even require customers to get numbers for the waiting lists.
In other words, if Estella were to attend the ball, Hela would get to do things she loved, such as shopping with her daughter and intimidating people with how much money she had. So why did she refuse?
“Why, Mom?” I prodded further, out of character for me since I normally tried to be as accommodating as possible. Plus, it was taboo for a Kartina to ask a higher-ranking person “why.” Asking “why” was equivalent to asking for a fight.
“I’m worried that people will fall for you. It annoys me just to think about all those ugly bastards making advances at you.”
Huh? Do you want me to never leave the house?
Hela continued. “The ball is especially bad. What are balls and masquerades for? Everyone only has one thing in mind, even as they laugh elegantly and pretend to have deep conversations. They want to find a catch. Now, imagine you were to attend, Estella. It would be chaos. They’d flock to you like moths to a flame. They don’t know their place. You should just live with me forever.” Hela was an elegant woman. In terms of her appearance, not her actions. Whenever harsh words escaped those elegant lips, it gave me a little thrill. But not today.
“Oh, Mom. I may be showered with affection at home, but that will not be the case elsewhere. You only adore my pitiful self because we’re family.” I told her as I waved my hands dismissively.
“Estella! What are you saying? No one in the empire could rival your beauty. Is that how you’ve seen yourself all this time? That breaks my heart!” Kalen burst out.
Hm? Did I say something wrong? For the past twenty-five years, I’d been taught that humility was a virtue. In my past life, that is. What I had just said was an automatic response.
I knew I was pretty, but that didn’t mean that I was able to go around bragging about it.
“Mother, we’ve got to do something. Our dear Estella seems to be unaware of how beautiful she is. I will personally gouge out the eyes of every bastard who ogles her, so please allow her to come with us.”
I didn’t quite understand what had angered Kalen, but things were going in my favor.
“Ha…” Hela was faced with a dilemma.
“I’ll stick close to my siblings.” I promised, urging Hela to make the right decision. Her brows furrowed. I stared at her pleadingly as she weighed her options in silence.
Finally, her face softened. “All right,” she said. “I suppose our dear Estella needs a chance to view herself objectively.” She smiled brightly at us, and I breathed in a sigh of relief. “Now,” Hela continued, “shall we go shopping?”
I collapsed onto my bed as soon as we returned to the mansion, having realized yet again that shopping was more exhausting than most types of training.
“Was it tiring, my lady?” Jane spoke up knowingly as she noticed the many new boxes the other servants carried into the room.
Jane was my personal maid. Her physique was similar to mine, and so was her hair length and color. Though my hair was a bright blonde and hers was more of a dirty blond. She served as my body double in emergencies.
“Jane… I’m so tired.” I whined out the word and acted like a child. Jane just clicked her tongue.
Anyone could tell we didn’t have a relationship like most ladies and their maids. I treated Jane like a friend. It was hard not to, seeing that we were the same age and had grown up together. She was the only person I could pour my heart out to.
I also felt indebted to Jane, who had taken a blood oath to sacrifice herself to save me in an emergency, so it was hard to even think about ordering her around like a common servant.
“Are you really going to the ball, my lady?” Jane was taken aback by the pile of boxes stacked along one of the walls of my room, which was the size of a training hall in any ordinary nobleman’s mansion. Putting aside the task of opening the boxes, she approached my bed.
“Why? Are you worried that I’ll be bothered by all the men flocking to me?”
“Huh?” Jane made a strange grimace with her upper lip raised and her eyes narrowed. “Does it look like I’m worried about you?”
Jane shook her head to dismiss the thought.
“Then who are you worried about?”
“The guys.” Jane stretched out her hand and drew a circle with her finger as if to trace the men she imagined buzzing around the ball like flies. She said, “When I’m retired and ready to get married, there has to be at least one fly left for me. But if you go to the ball, every man there will look at you, whether they fall for you or not. Their eyes could meet yours by accident. Good lord! May God have mercy.”
Jane clasped her hands together in an exaggerated prayer motion, then continued. “Do you think the young master and the young mistresses will let them be? Of course not.”
I gulped. Jane pretended to draw her hand across her neck.
The Kartinas were known to be reckless, but Jane had to be exaggerating. As if they would kill anyone just for meeting my eye.
I threw a pillow at Jane in response to her silly comment, but she avoided it easily and laughed.
“The sun has gone down, my lady.” Jane pointed to the window. Just as she said, the sun had disappeared behind the mountains.
I shot up from the bed. Amidst all the chitter chatter, I had completely forgotten…
“Don’t stay out too late,” Jane said, handing me the black clothes and sword that had been hidden in the closet.
It was time to rescue Viscount Velot’s son.
Rescuing Viscount Velot’s son was an easy task. He just needed to be surrounded by people.
That night, I threw heavy rocks at his mansion and shattered all the windows. Naturally, the Velot household erupted into chaos. They thought a thief had broken into the mansion, and soon the city guard arrived.
I let out a sigh of relief. With the guards here as well, even a Kartina wouldn’t try and kill someone. It wasn’t worth the risk.
Why couldn’t I have been transported into an ordinary romance novel? I gnashed my teeth and flipped off whichever god had sent me here before heading back to the warmth of my bed.
A week later, it was the day of the ball.
“You look beautiful.” Jane’s simple compliment was sincere. She was a very helpful maid who would give me a reality check whenever I was in danger of losing touch thanks to my overly affectionate and doting family.
Jane rarely complimented me and was incapable of flattery, so hearing a compliment from her gave me a confidence boost. My apparently pleasant appearance was confirmed by Stefan, who stood in the doorway dabbing at his eyes with a handkerchief.
I really am pretty. I looked at my reflection in the mirror one last time. I had Hela’s blonde hair. My golden hair, meticulously maintained with money earned through wrongdoings, had a lustrous sheen no matter which way I turned. My skin was ivory white, and my large round eyes, sharp nose, and red lips were angelic.
I was a classic beauty, and the cherry on top was the beauty mark under my right eye, which crinkled when I smiled. I took after my parents’ best qualities and was even prettier than my sisters, who were known to be quite beautiful.
This wasn’t me being delusional. It was a fact written in the novel.
“Estella, it’s not too late to change your mind. Why don’t you go to a ball where I can go with you? No, I’ll hold a ball just for you,” Stefan told me as he approached.
He was lying. There was something I found out while preparing for this ball. I’m seventeen years old, and I will be an adult next year. In the Philemon Empire, one could debut into society up to two years before coming of age. Wealthy and powerful families sent their daughters to their debutante balls as soon as they turned sixteen, not wasting any time. Their intent was to have them enter high society as soon as possible to secure good husbands.
And though I was a wealthy and powerful Kartina, I still hadn’t debuted, even at the age of seventeen. The reason was simple.
Stefan had prevented my high society debut, openly stating that “Estella doesn’t need to marry.” This was in contrast to my sisters, who had gotten their extravagant debutante balls as soon as they had turned sixteen.
“I’ll see you when I come home,” I told Stefan.
In other words, today’s ball was going to be my official debut into high society.
There wasn’t much to debutante balls. They were events at which a young noble lady made her first appearance in high society. The more powerful the host, the better the occasion for debutantes. This didn’t matter much in my case. I was a Kartina. Even if my debutante ball had been held in a shabby barn, I would be hard to ignore.
I got on my tiptoes and kissed Stefan on both cheeks. If I delayed any further, he might have knocked me out to keep me from going.
Stefan smelled like a particular drug that could knock someone out immediately.
As I tried to quickly distance myself from him, Stefan urgently called out to me. “Estella, wait.”
Stefan pulled out a few colorful feather ornaments from his pocket, and he carefully placed a few of them in my hair.
“Dad…” I murmured. I was thankful to Stefan, who had brought me a gift even though he didn’t want me to go. His fond gaze remained on my face for a long while.
After a few moments of peaceful silence, Stefan broke the spell of quiet. “Estella,” he said, “the tips of these feathers are soaked in poison. If any ugly bastards come at you, just stab them. I’ll take care of the rest.”
I thought it was weird when he stuck feathers in my hair, but there was more to it. I smiled awkwardly. “Thank you, Dad.”
Time to get on the carriage.
Hela had some business to take care of in the countryside, so she wasn’t home. Stefan also had places to be, so he didn’t delay me any longer. My siblings got on their horses. I was the only occupant of the heavy-laden carriage. The carriage was just filled with weapons. As the carriage rumbled forward, I took a few deep breaths. It was finally time to meet Rodrigo, the male lead of the story.
I’ll save you.
Just save me in exchange.
I clenched my fists.
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