Karina’s Last Days
“My lord, your fiancée, Lady Leopold, has come to visit.”
“What? Am I forgetting the date or something? I believe we still have a year left until our wedding day.”
“Yes, but… our guest is definitely Lady Karina Leopold.”
The man, who was busy doing paperwork, looked up with sharp eyes. He got up from his seat, clicking his tongue. Why on earth would she travel from the south all the way to the north without sending word in advance? His red eyes glared fiercely at the disruption.
“Has she lost her mind? Even if we’re engaged, how can she just come here on a whim without sending any letter to warn me of her arrival?” Duke Milian Pastellio’s words came out rather harshly, mostly because he had been pushed to his limits recently by the rising number of demonic monsters in the north.
His butler, Fang, followed him, while his face turned apprehensive.
“Tsk, what on earth was Father thinking, arranging such an absurd marriage before passing away? I want to dig him up just so I can hear what he has to say for himself,” the duke continued in a rant.
Shocked by his liege’s disrespectful words, Fang was speechless. In reality, Milian was overworked and too busy dealing with the war against the demonic monsters to even think about dealing with his fiancée. Also, at this time of year, the estate required a lot of work to prepare everyone for the coming winter, so to hear the news of a surprise visit by his betrothed on top of all that…
He had not seen her since their simple engagement ceremony. She had seemed disinterested in Milian, and of course, the feeling was mutual.
“It would be difficult to call off the engagement now, wouldn’t it?”
Fang, who always had a repertoire of smart replies, did not speak.
Everyone is trying my patience. Milian was feeling more angered than someone who had been without food or drink for five days. When he turned his glaring eyes around, he saw that Fang was looking toward the door, unable to take his eyes off his lord’s fiancée. She was looking at Milian, her complexion paler than the last time he had seen her.
She must have heard everything. Milian clicked his tongue in his mind. He started to speak, thinking he should explain himself. “What I said just now—”
“Calling off the engagement sounds good,” she said, cutting him off.
“My Lord, our wedding is to be held in roughly a year, right?”
Standing slantingly, Milian crossed his arms and listened to what she had to say. He decided to listen to her despite his growing annoyance. He had already been feeling quite resentful, having not slept for three nights in a row because of his paperwork backlog. The dark shadows under his eyes confirmed his exhaustion.
“To cut to the chase, I would like to stay here for about six months, maybe ten.”
“Have you lost your mind, lady?” He was honestly baffled that he spit out the first words that came to him. A nobleman should never use such crass language, but he had to ask her.
Karina flung her dull brown hair around her waist. Her deep blue eyes looked straight into Milian’s red ones.
“In return, I will break the engagement when I leave.”
“Don’t tell me you ran away from home, at your age?” he asked.
“At my age, it’s natural to leave my home to get married,” she said. “It’s less than a year. It’ll more likely be six months and won’t be longer than ten months. I see you have an annex building and I am fine with staying there. I don’t need to stay in the main building. As you can see, I brought nothing with me. Ah, I did bring the document to betrothal nullification documents.”
With her pale hands, turned red from the cold, she pulled out a piece of paper from a ragged fabric bag. Her hands were red because she had not been wearing gloves.
Milian’s face crinkled up. Where did she even get that rag of a bag that looks like it belongs in the garbage?
“Is the count having financial problems?”
“Pardon?” Karina asked back in surprise. She followed his gaze and saw him staring at the fabric bag. Suddenly understanding, she shook her head. She had bought the bag for cheap from somebody who was about to throw it out.
“I would have been in trouble if I had carried an expensive bag traveling all the way up here.”
“How did you even travel this far?” he asked.
“I paid for a carriage, then walked for a bit, and again got on a carriage or traveled with merchants.”
Count Leopold’s estate was at the edge of the southern lands. The count rarely came out to the capital, which meant that she had traveled from the furthest place in the south to the northernmost territory. Even with a personal carriage, it takes at least a month to cover the distance. Milian scowled again and asked, “When did you leave?”
“I left two months ago.”
“What, and you didn’t even bother to contact me even once? Wait... Before that, why would a noble lady, who knows nothing of the world, travel such dangerous roads?”
“This will probably be my first and last journey...” Karina’s words were puzzling. A cold breeze blew in through the wide-open door of the mansion. She glanced at the colorful fallen leaves. “For once, I wanted to do something on my own, let my own feet carry me.”
The trip had been the first thing that she had decided to do on her own. She didn’t have much time left, and she wanted to spend it doing what she wanted.
Last journey? Milian’s expression turned dark. Well, it wouldn’t make sense for a noble lady to go on such a reckless journey more than once. He shook his head. Thank goodness nothing happened because it would’ve been terrible if something had happened.
“So, may I please stay here?” asked Karina.
“What if I say no?”
“I did think of a backup plan. Perhaps I should start working for a merchant as a lowly staff member and travel along…” She had given it some thought but honestly, she knew her physical health wasn’t up to it.
Perhaps it was the cold wind of the north, but she’d found that she had been fainting from time to time ever since she had entered the northern territory. She wanted to stay here in peace, paint, go on short trips to nearby attractions, and prepare for her final days.
“Huh!” Milian was left speechless. Including her bold speech, Karina’s attitude was completely different from the last time he had seen her. It was like she was a different person.
She shrugged at his reaction. “That potential plan was really just my wild imagination at work because I didn’t think my lord would decline my offer.”
“Because my lord dislikes me. Since the moment we met at the engagement ceremony, your eyes spoke of how much I fell short of your liking.” While Milian was baffled, she continued speaking proudly. “I am good at recognizing that sort of thing. So I didn’t think you would pass up this opportunity.”
Karina waved the paper in front of him. Milian glared at the reddened fingers holding it and then glanced over at her. Regardless of his feelings, it wasn’t like he could keep a guest on his doorstep.
“Step inside first.”
“Thank you. You won’t even know that I’m here. And when I am gone one day, just think that I have gone back to where I came from. I will no longer be your burden.”
Milian sighed at Karina’s words. His guilt was swelling up as he took in her pale, lifeless complexion, but there wasn’t any reason for him to feel guilty. He felt all of this was a bit unfair, so he glared at Karina again.
She hadn’t made it obvious, but she must have been cold, as she was shivering. Milian swallowed the words he was about to say.
“Fang, get a decent room for her now. And tell the maids to prepare a bath.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“The lady will speak more after she freshens up.”
Karina followed after the smartly-dressed Fang, leaving behind her host, who was looking at her suspiciously. Milian glanced over at her back and headed straight to his office. There was a pile of paperwork that he still needed to get through.
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