Chapter Four: A Sincere Purple
It had been a week since she began going to and from the art gallery.
On the first day, when Riz had collapsed, John seemed to understand something and became a very naggy demon.
The run-down carriage used for picking her up and dropping her off also changed overnight. Its outward appearance was still old, but its insides were brand new; there were plentiful cushions and it was even equipped with a blanket. Tonics were also present.
John’s attendant act didn’t stop with just that.
From the carriage to the mansion or the short distance to the art gallery, she was lifted up and carried the entire way. There was no sweet atmosphere at all; it was all done indifferently, as if it were obligatory.
Riz felt like dying the moment Virma saw her like that.
At first, Virma was annoyed about how the maids and Hine returned to the mansion after leaving Riz behind. Then Riz came home in the evening. And she was in John’s arms at that time too.
Virma, when she came out to greet them, was clearly frowning.
It appeared that she was worried on the point of a young man touching her unmarried daughter. Naturally, she was wary of John but when she learned of his identity she changed her attitude quickly.
It wasn’t that John cast a suggestion.
He had a reliable social status that artisocrats could believe in.
The “good-for-nothing old man” John was contracted to before was the former bishop, Petron, of the Royal Seventh Church and who was praised as a messenger of virtue.
He was someone who dedicated his entire life to the protection of refugees and relief efforts of the poor. He was also someone who loved the fine arts. It was said that female appraisers becoming officially recognized were because of his work as well.
Before the bishop was called by the heavens two years ago, he welcomed John as an adopted son. The bishop had been eighty-six years old and was apparently famous among some aristocrats.
It was impossible for the adopted son of the virtuous bishop to do anything abominable to Riz. Virma seemed to accept it like that.
If Riz was interested in wandering around other art galleries, then it would better for her to be docile beside the bishop’s son. That may have been Virma’s compromise.
Now she was happy to send Riz off to the art gallery.
The mentality of a bishop who welcomed a demon as his adopted son was a mystery, but with this Riz could understand the reason John held the qualifications for both a painting restorer and an appraiser.
For Hine to have decided on John as the temporary manager of the art gallery must also have been because there was no identity more solid than that.
That Hine had departed for Soarer country several days ago. Of course, Riz sprinkled plenty of holy water on him and had him go to a church before he left the country.
Right now, Riz was wrestling with symbology in the art gallery’s storehouse.
The floor was covered in parchment and Riz’s dress, as she sat in the middle of all that, was already covered with ink.
John came back from showing clients around through the exhibition passages. One hand was carrying a silver tray with water and a small container on top.
“My lady, time to take your medicine.”
“Yes, I know. By the way, John, what’s the meaning of this symbol?”
Taking the parchment in hand, she held it up to face John.
“It’s similar to a star but it also looks different. Flames?”
He placed the silver tray on the work table and then stood directly behind Riz, leaning down a little to peer at the parchment.
“That is the crest of the saint, Cekate. It is not a star, but a trident of fire.”
“Saint Cekate? One of the fallen apostles who appear in the Bible?”
As John nodded he speedily scooped up the medicine in the container that was on the silver tray and transferred it to a paper.
“After Saint Cekate became a disciple in the Holy of Holies, they were tested three times by the devil. They endured twice, but they ultimately succumbed to temptation the third time. That is why the tips of the trident are covered in flames— now, your medicine. Open your mouth.”
John grabbed her chin from behind and their eyes met as he looked down at her with a calm expression.
“I don’t like bitter things.”
“Please do not act like a child.”
The powder was poured into her mouth and then water was immediately supplied.
After she grudgingly finished off the water he let her lick some honey with familiar movements.
John began to clean up the documents which Riz had scattered on the ground while she squirmed at the honey’s sweetness.
But everything would be scattered again soon. Even though she didn’t think there was much sense in organizing things, John was meticulous.
Glancing at John as he piled up bundles of documents on the work table, Riz picked up a single massive reference book. She crawled to the wall and sat there, using the shelves as a backrest, before looking over the pages.
It was a book that explained symbols, but it was written in an old language used only by the clergy and so Riz couldn’t read it right now.
“John, this is a symbol of a fish, right? What’s the reason for drawing seven scales?”
When she pointed to the corresponding passage John, who was putting away brushes in the shelves on the opposite side, came over to her.
“It’s not a fish. It represents the eyes of Vorrga, the demon of foresight.”
“What sort of demon is that?”
“Vorrga will prophesize exactly as their contracted human desires for six times. On the seventh time, Vorrga prophesizes their own desire and there they consume their contractor’s soul— I have reminded you to ensure that you cover yourself with a blanket. Do not let your body get chilled.”
The reference book on her lap was stolen and a blanket was placed down instead.
He returned the reference book to the shelves. During that time, Riz secretly pulled out another book and opened its pages. This was also a book on symbols.
“What’s the meaning of two hooks crossing?”
“It represents a tainted church. —My lady, how many times must I tell you, feather pens are not hair ornaments. Is your head a brush stand?”
Now that he mentioned it, her feather pen had gone missing a while ago. She completely forgot that she stuck it in her hair to avoid losing it.
“I do not believe this; there is ink in your hair. I cannot abide by this slovenliness.”
He retrieved a cloth from the work table’s drawers and scrubbed at Riz’s hair.
“John, what is this symbol? A branch?”
“A thunderbolt— stop there. It is time for a break.”
“Just a little more.”
“No. For every hour you are to rest fifteen minutes. You will be struck with dizziness if you do not.”
“My body’s in a good condition today.”
“I said no. Now move over to that chaise lounge at once.”
Her book was stolen again and she was driven to the chaise lounge placed beside the work table. It was large enough for her to lie down comfortably and the fabric of the seats and backrest were a dark blue.
John prepared this a few days ago.
Leaving the words “Do your best not to move”, he left the storehouse carrying the silver tray with the medicine.
Her demon was also strict today.
She got up and pulled out the first reference book that had been taken away.
Carrying that back to the chaise lounge, she hid it underneath her blanket.
Paintings of the great summer festival were still being exhibited in the art gallery.
Up to date, there had been fifty purchases. John handled all the visitor correspondences and purchasing procedures.
Meanwhile, Riz stayed in the storehouse and studied.
All the exhibited works had been examined. Besides “The Moment of Liberation” and “The Late Hours of Silence” there had been five other distorted paintings mixed in but, unfortunately, they were all “vacant houses”.
John bought those “vacant houses” using a pseudonym.
Because of that, there were no problems with selling the paintings that were currently on display.
John came back to the store house in little to no time.
He held a new silver tray in one hand.
This time it wasn’t medicine, but tea and pastries.
Riz tried to get up from the chaise but was stopped by his gaze.
“John, one of my mother’s friends has been collecting paintings with mythological motifs recently. If I ask my mother, I’m sure I can be invited to a tea party with that lady. Why don’t we go together?”
“Please consider your physical endurance. In any case, you will collapse before we even arrive at the other’s mansion. I will go to ascertain that painting, so you will stay here and be obedient.”
“But, John, you can’t find demons.”
“I can confirm whether it is a distorted painting or not— Here, this is jasmine tea. Drink it.”
Riz accepted the held out cup and reluctantly sipped at it.
“Ah, it’s delicious today.”
“Is it now?”
John, who placed the silver tray on the work table, looked back and the corner of his eyes softened.
Ever since the day she collapsed, John has prepared tea every day but it was horribly bitter at first. He didn’t know how to brew tea properly at all.
His expression itself hadn’t changed when she told him honestly “This is unbelievably bad”, but he must have felt humiliated. John began to research on how to brew tea.
Finally, on the seventh day, his efforts bore fruit. He also appeared to undertake making pastries several days ago. The types of cups they had increased as well. He seemed to be the fastidious type.
She told him she liked chocolate, which was the trend in foreign countries, so she wondered what would happen in the end.
“John, you can clean up later. Sit beside me and continue explaining symbols.”
Riz brought out the reference book from under her blanket.
“Cleaning comes first, because you cough when there is a lot of dust. Furthermore, fifteen minutes hasn’t passed yet.”
“Two minutes remain.”
John opened one of his pocket watches on purpose and checked the time.
He was completely at home with being Riz’s caretaker.
She was troubled by whether or not it was alright to push a demon around like this, but John himself didn’t seem to show any particular displeasure.
Riz inwardly sighed in admiration.
It almost made her want to employ him as a servant of the Milton family.
She didn’t think he would be this competent.
It was completely unexpected, even though she had been on guard for unreasonable demands being spouted or unnatural phenomenons being repeated.
Occasionally, he uttered rude things exactly as a demon would, but his behavior was elegant and his work was quick. He probably learned the bare minimum of manners under his previous contractor.
The most delightful thing of all though was how he provided knowledge without being modest.
Was she getting won over by John?
Maybe this was a step before falling into corruption?
When she looked at John with these troubling thoughts, he also stopped working and showed a complicated expression.
“… There are many varieties of human women, aren’t there. If there are ones who lose themselves in me and lapse into corruption, then there are also ones who converse calmly with me like you, my lady.”
“It’s not like I’m calm.”
“You are though. Ordinarily, a person would not drink something a demon offered.”
“Did you possibly put poison in this jasmine tea?”
“If I did such a foolish thing and you collapsed then it would fall to me to care for you.”
Riz was told that in an irritated tone.
She was surprised and wanted to ask if it was a given he would care for her, but she refrained from pointing it out.
And then, until the evening, she was instructed on art history, mythology, and symbology whenever John was free.
Incidentally, the exhibits of the art gallery were basically free to view. There was a message board that told potential customers to ring a bell prepared in the passages.
In normal cases, such a sloppy management wouldn’t be used. It was the manager’s job to be on guard so that paintings weren’t stolen or played around with.
However, there was a demon here; she was told that a mechanism had been set up so that he would know immediately if someone touched a painting.
Because of that he also spent a long time in the storehouse. Apparently, the next project was to display paintings with the autumn theme.
These projects required consideration for the creation period, and so contracted artists had been contacted at least a year ago.
Even in the case that a project was cancelled, the art gallery would take responsibility and collect the works.
It seemed that John, during the year that Riz hadn’t been here, had gone to the contracted artists and made preparations. The works themselves had already been delivered and currently invitation letters for esteemed clients were being created.
It would be open to the general public later.
Riz looked forward to the time she spent at the art gallery. Even though she would have been fine if she stayed a little longer, John was strict. Today, they ended at exactly five o’clock as well.
“It’s time. I shall escort you back.”
As usual, she returned to the mansion in a swaying carriage which was comfortable inside, although it’s appearance was worn-out.
Once she was escorted all the way to her room John would leave, but today there was an unexpected visitor.
Riz’s fiancé, Emil, had come.
The steward, who greeted Riz at the entrance, explained “Lord Emil is chatting with the Madam in the sitting room”.
Postponing changing, she went directly to the sitting room. For some reason, John also followed.
The sitting room was on the first floor, close to the study.
“Is this Sir Emil my lady’s fiancé?”
John asked this on their way through the corridor.
“Yes. He’s too dazzling.”
“A sociable good-looking man who smiles a lot.”
“Oh dear. He is the antithesis of my lady who has dead eyes.”
“Why did you choose such a man to be your fiancé?”
“It was my mother’s trick and there seemed to be other fiancé candidates. She probably wants my introversion to lighten up, even just a little, and chose only dazzling men.”
“I see. A useless endeavor.”
“I think my mother also realizes inwardly that it’s futile. But sometimes parents look at their children through rose-colored glasses.”
There was also the reverse.
Because, for some reason or other, Riz loved Virma and so she accepted this marriage.
“I see my lady as someone who would refuse a marriage that goes against her will though.”
“I need to marry someday, so doing it now is the same thing.”
John didn’t answer, but he had a difficult expression.
When Riz and John entered the sitting room, Virma and Emil, who had been talking happily, turned around at the same time.
Emil stood up quickly from his chair. He was as good-looking as always and the navy blue of his aristocratic clothes suited him well. He seemed to be slightly taller than John.
When the two were beside each other it was like a light and a shadow.
If she remembered correctly there was a painter who had the nickname, “Magician of the Sun and Moon”. He drew light and shade portraits more enchanting than anything else and had high support from not just nobles but also the church.
Riz also had a book of his pictures.
It felt like John and Emil stepped out of a work from that prodigious painter.
“Good evening, Sir Emil.”
Riz held her skirt lightly and curtsied.
Emil walked over and showed a sweet smile.
“Hello, Miss Riz. I wanted to see your face— once I thought that I came here before I knew it.”
“Somnambulism is a condition where someone walks around while sleeping but they themselves do not remember this action. By the way, it wasn’t a doctor who used the word somnambulism for the first time, it was a monk. These symptoms occurred a long time ago, but no one attached any importance to this. Syphilis and the Black Death pandemic was taken as a more serious problem—“
Virma, who had been smiling elegantly, rose from the couch with a changing complexion and glared at Riz.
“I apologize, Sir Emil! This child seems to be very excited to meet you!”
“Yes, it seems so.”
Emil nodded while holding back chuckles.
“Miss Riz always lets me hear interesting stories.”
John, who was standing a little behind Riz, suddenly opened his mouth.
“My lady, the Black Death and syphilis had a great influence even in the world of art. Many paintings exist comparing the Black Death to a god of death. For your information, there is also a symbol for this pandemic—“
Virma, her complexion turning again, glared at John. And then she immediately gave a forced smile to Emil.
“I sincerely apologize!”
“Please, I do not mind. Incidentally, this gentleman is…?”
“Oh my, silly me, forgetting the introductions! Sir Emil, this is John Smith. He is the sworn son of the former bishop, Petron, of the Seventh Church. He is an excellent art appraiser and restorer and requested to manage the art gallery of my younger brother, who has gone overseas.”
“Is that so?”
“John, this is one of the sons of the Carotion family, Sir Emil. He is the commander of the third military squadron of the Order of Holy Lion Knights and Riz’s fiancé.”
“I heard about you from my lady.”
John showed a smile.
Riz felt a little uneasy at that expression.
It was the look he had when he saw a distorted painting.
“Aah, it’s a pleasure to meet you. It seems there will be opportunities for us to meet in the future as well.”
“Yes, Lord Emil.”
Even though the two had smiles they seemed to be searching for the other’s real intentions.
It was Emil who looked away first.
He faced Riz again and gently took one hand.
“It appears I’ve thought about you so much I’ve become a sleepwalking person.”
May I refer hospitals to you?— Riz wanted to say this, but Virma was looking at her with eyes filled with murder. It seemed like those were words she shouldn’t say.
Even Riz knew that he was saying something along the lines of a joke.
However, there was a chance it could be true and, also, she felt resistant to having a normal interaction between a man and woman in front of John.
Riz stealthily tried to pull her fingers out from Emil’s hand, but then she suddenly noticed something. His complexion was poor.
“Sir Emil, are you possibly unwell?”
For a moment he denied it, but then he showed a troubled look.
“I haven’t been sleeping much. In spite of myself, I’ve been having many bad dreams recently.”
“Would you like a satchet? A bergamot and orange fragrance will induce a pleasant sleep. Moreover, oranges are supposed to represent a charm against evil spirits.”
“Oh, yes! Good, Riz, keep going with that attitude and decent responses— I mean, please bring it here by all means!”
Riz was shoved persistently in the back by a perfectly smiling Virma and forcibly driven out of the sitting room. John too.
“My lady, Madam Virma clearly chased you out of that room so that you wouldn’t volley out any more defects.”
“That’s what I think too. I feel like she doesn’t intend for me to meet with Sir Emil much until the wedding ceremony.”
At any rate, she’d bring the satchet.
John also followed Riz up to her personal room.
Maybe it was because he was recognized by the others in the mansion as Riz’s caretaker, but no one criticized her for being alone with him.
Or perhaps John set up some sort of hidden trick, but even if she asked she felt like he would feign ignorance.
“But he is an unusual man.”
It was when Riz was taking out a satchet from her dresser’s drawer that John, watching her actions, tilted his head and murmured this.
“There is a faint miasma around that man.”
Riz was shocked.
“My lady, did you not inquire about his health because you noticed that as well?”
“No, I just thought he looked unwell. But when you say miasma, what do you mean technically? Is it like the stagnation that had been spread around the art gallery?”
John removed his glasses and rubbed lightly between his brows.
The eyes that looked at her were calm and clear.
Even though he was a demon, he was intelligent and quietness suited him.
For an instant Riz imagined what it would be like if he were her marriage partner.
It might not be bad.
He would probably allow her to stay in a room that smelled of pigments all day. She would study paintings and decipher symbols. During this, she’d ask to be taught and would learn art history. Whenever her health was good, they would go to art galleries managed by other art dealers or to auction markets.
Riz shook off her fantasties. She was being ridiculous.
“I can feel the mind of another person. Negative emotions such as jealousy and anger.”
“Negative… Do you mean that someone has ill will towards Sir Emil?”
“That appears to be the case.”
He said this in a tone with great interest while playing with the glasses he removed.
“The spite and jealousy of humans can be equal to a demon’s curse. He seems to have brought a lot of resentment upon himself.”
“I can’t see that happening though…”
Riz was puzzled.
Emil looked like a man who was good at socializing.
Even if there was someone who had ill will towards him, it seemed like he would win them over with skillful conversation and turn them into his own friend. He also excelled at concealing his true feelings and she could gather that he did this all without a slip.
That was why Riz felt a little uncomfortable.
Although he knew about the shade, he would go directly into the light out of his own will. He was able to love people with reason and be compassionate.
“My lady, you are innocent. That sort of man is attractive to the opposite gender, but thoroughly hated by the same gender.”
“He knows his own beauty, but is never haughty. He knows to pay due respect to people and doesn’t easily gossip behind their backs. He has the composure to laugh off most problems. He has an occupation others envy. His house is also not bad. He has wealth, ability, and youth. Conversely, my lady, I would like to ask if there could be anyone of the same gender who wouldn’t be envious of such a blessed man?”
Riz changed Emil into a woman and thought about it.
A woman who had beauty, intelligence, wealth, talent, and, even more, was healthy. Also, despite having a fiancé who was introverted, cooped up, and had dead eyes, she did not show any dissatisfaction and accepted them with a broad mind.
“Impossible, they’d only be able to feel hate.”
She understood now. If she changed her point of view, there was a new discovery.
He was so perfect that he became terribly suspicious. “Being perfect” seemed to be a flaw in reverse.
This point might be the same with paintings. When a painting was too harmonious, it wouldn’t really draw interest. Putting a deformation in on purpose and breaking that “perfection” was what gave expression to a painting.
“However, no matter how much Madam Virma wished to reform your introverted personality, I believe that man is not fit to be your husband. My lady, why did she not choose a man more suited for you?”
“… There were five candidates. I drew him.”
“What do you mean?”
First, she shoved the satchet into her chest and then pulled open the dresser’s drawer again.
She took out a single card, on which a picture was drawn, from there. It was about half the size of the Book of Hours.
“What is this card?”
John asked this with a serious face.
“Before, my mother showed five cards to me. She told me to choose the one I liked out of them. The drawings on the cards were a pear, a lime, a grape, an apricot, and an apple. I chose the lime.”
It was the lime card that she showed John.
“I didn’t think this card would possibly represent my fiancé candidate.”
“You mean to say the lime is a symbol of Sir Emil?”
“Yes. Do you know why?”
John lightly bit the smooth edge of his glasses. He got the answer immediately.
“Lime… I see. If you read it in reverse it would be Emil, am I correct?”
He wasn’t fun at all.
He could have acted a little troubled.
“What is with that expression?”
John gave a small chuckle.
“Truly you are my lady. This card wasn’t chosen because of a reason such as you wishing to eat a lime, right?”
“… It was just because I liked the lime the most out of the five pieces.”
“You’re mistaken. Did you not feel a sense of discomfort?”
Riz felt startled when he pointed that out.
The reason she chose the lime was just because of a feeling somehow or other.
Was that the sense of discomfort John spoke of?
John flicked the painting Riz held when she kept silent.
She scrambled when it felt like it was about to fall.
John chuckled again, deep in his throat.
“This is also a distorted painting.”
“You seem to have chosen it unconsciously. Here, take a good look at this card.”
The two of them peered at the painting.
Riz suddenly realized that their shoulders were nearly touching.
But John probably didn’t even think of this.
It was always Riz who was aware of him.
Ever since the time they met.
“My lady, you don’t know?”
Shaking off her idle thoughts, she concentrated on the lime painting. There were two fruits. Branches. Leaves. It was all bordered with a vine pattern. Riz started intently at it. The part that caught her was—
“The shadow of the branches?”
“Yes, correct. Does it not resemble some sort of symbol?”
The answer sprung out right away.
There were thin shadows on the top part of the limes. An unintended “symbol” had been made there.
“I told you the meaning of that.”
“A tainted church…”
Chills ran through her entire body.
A distorted painting had been close to her?
“My lady must have unconsciously tried to distance this painting from Madam Virma. So that divine punishment would not strike the Madam.”
“John, is it possible this painting is the cause of Sir Emil’s poor health?”
“No. I said it was another person’s malice. However, in a sense, this painting may be hinting at his future.”
Was he being serious? Or was he simply being frivolous? She couldn’t read him.
Riz stared at the card without blinking.
“Could it be that you’re afraid?”
“I feel things like fear too.”
“That emotion isn’t needed.”
“Even if it’s not needed, I still feel it on its own.”
“Little fool. I swore to serve you as if I loved you, did I not? What is there to fear?”
Riz’s head shot up and she looked at John.
“The person in front of your eyes here is a demon. I would understand if you said you feared me, but to be scared of nothing more than a distorted painting…”
“John, the way you talk is very misleading.”
She felt pathetic for reacting to every single word of a demon.
It happened the moment she sighed. A maid hesitantly opened the door to her room.
“Miss Riz, Lord Emil has arrived.”
Riz returned the card to the drawer and approached the door. John also put on his glasses again and followed after her.
Beside the maid stood a smiling Emil.
Why did he come to her personal room? What happened to Virma in the sitting room?
“Did I interrupt?”
Emil asked this with a troubled look.
“No… Please come in.”
John was here too. An umarried woman wasn’t supposed to pull someone of the opposite gender carelessly into her room, but it should be alright since they weren’t alone together.
The maid also seemed to understand and left the door open before she departed.
“You seem to be quite close to that gentleman there.”
Emil spoke in an admiring tone.
She invited him to sit on the couch with a gesture, but he shook his head. The conversation continued while he stood beside a round table and poked at the egg-shaped works there with curiosity.
“… Because he has abundant knowledge related to the arts, John has been of great assistance.”
Riz cautiously replied.
She didn’t hear the sound of jealousy or censure for infidelity in Emil’s voice.
In that case, why did he come here?
Did he get urged on to try talking to her alone by Virma? That was a little hard to imagine.
“Is it possible you have something personal to discuss with me?”
“Yes. There is something I would like you to hear.”
She didn’t think they had an intimate enough relationship to discuss troubles, but did he not care about that?— Riz held her tongue to keep from asking that.
—Even though he was the person she was to marry, she didn’t know even one of his hobbies. She didn’t try to learn about them either.
She felt disgusted at her insincerity and, at the same time, she felt guilty.
“You see, Miss Riz, I heard that you are the owner of an art gallery and Mr. John there is managing it.”
Emil said that with another look of admiration.
“The reason as to why I made a visit here was, of course, because I wished to see my lovely fiancée’s face… but mostly because I wished to borrow your wisdom.”
Riz gestured to the couch again with a hand.
This time he obediently abided by her invitation. After seeing him sit down, Riz also sat down on a single chair.
John didn’t sit and stood beside Riz.
“I see. What is it you wished to discuss?”
“I have a painting I would like you to appraise by all means.”
“What sort of painting is it?”
Her slight guilt from before vanished and Riz leaned forward.
Emil crossed his legs elegantly and smiled.
“It’s an oil painting I received from a friend to celebrate my engagement… Somehow, after I decorated my mansion with that painting, strange events have come to pass.”
Riz swiftly exchanged glances with John.
Could it be a distorted painting?
“At the beginning I thought it was mere coincidence. However, the appearance of the painting clearly changed.”
“Yes. A beautiful holy mother transformed into a mummy.”
“And it wasn’t a case of rapid deterioration?”
“No. It hasn’t faded in color or become discolored from the sun. It’s a different person.”
“Could you please show me that painting?”
Riz rose from her chair and requested this earnestly. Emil’s eyes widened, but then he immediately smiled.
“Yes, of course.”
“Then let us go to your mansion at once, Sir Emil.”
She tried to leave the room with the force of her request, but her arm was grabbed by John. He looked down at her with reproof and then turned his head to Emil.
“In that case, Lord Emil, we would like to call upon you at another date.”
Emil furrowed his brows faintly.
Riz was given a fresh feeling. This was the first time he showed a somewhat negative emotion.
“Will you be accompanying us as well?”
“Naturally. I am a servant of my lady.”
She made a mistake in his various training. Maybe it was for the better that he didn’t say he was a pet dog.
“Servant? You are simply working at the art gallery and not serving the Milton family, are you not? I do not think it is necessary for you to come.”
It was a reasonable opinion, but Riz was surprised anew at Emil’s stubborn attitude.
He had been unruffled when he was introduced to John in the sitting room, so what changed his mind?
“However, Lord Emil, I am qualified as an appraiser. If it is a problem concerning a painting, then I will be of service.”
“You’re surprisingly slow on the uptake.”
“May I ask on what?”
“Are you feigning ignorance on purpose or are you just straight-laced? Which one is he, Miss Riz?”
“… I think he’s straight-laced.”
John’s eyes behind his glasses cooled when Riz answered.
“Why are you asking my lady when I am right here?”
She felt nervous about whether or not he was going to say something rude.
Courtesy was being peeled off little by little from John’s attitude.
“You’ve got me.”
Emil raked a hand through his hair and glared at John.
Riz had evaluated Emil as an amiable man whose true feelings were hard to grasp, but perhaps she needed to look at him in a new light.
He was clearly against John accompanying them.
“My apologies, but I would ask of you to refrain this time. I am inviting my fiancée to my mansion for the first time, and so I don’t want another man coming with her.”
Even though he was rejected in a strong tone, John might have become obstinate too because he didn’t withdraw.
“The purpose is the painting’s appraisal, no? You said the holy mother turned into a mummy. If you are showing such a frightening piece of work to my lady then I really should accompany her. I believe you are aware of this, but my lady is delicate. A strong shock is also a burden on the body and she may collapse.”
Emil had an awkward expression as if he had been stabbed in a place that hurt.
He dropped a large sigh and then casually raised both hands up.
“I surrender. I only wanted an opportunity to speak slowly with her.”
“In other words, the story about the painting earlier was a lie then?”
“No, that was true. But, although I am religious, I have no interest in stories about curses.”
“However, the painting actually changed.”
“Oh, that, it’s obvious my friend switched the paintings behind my back.”
“What was your friend’s goal?”
“It’s simple. Harassment.”
Emil showed a wry smile.
“Even among the Order of Knights, I’ve had unprecedented promotions. In addition, I’ve obtained such a beautiful wife. It’s natural to be envied and so he set up an inauspicious prank under the guise of celebrating.”
“I see. So that friend comes to your mansion often, Lord Emil, and friendship and jealous have become intertwined.”
Emil faltered a little at John’s points. Riz understood his feelings, because John always spoke in an explicit manner. He wouldn’t beat around the bush in a conversation and so, until one got used to it, they would be at a loss.
“… Yeah. He hates me, and yet he hangs around my mansion. What a strange man.”
The corner of Emil’s lips pulled up with irony. He glanced at Riz.
“This is why I also wanted to get a light revenge.”
“You intend to flaunt my lady at your friend?”
“That’s right. So, I’ll be in trouble if you come along. I don’t mind if it’s another servant though.”
“If you will allow others, then why not me?”
“Are you going to make me say this as well?… It annoys me to admit this, but you’re a man with distinctive charm and you will steal Miss Riz’s gaze. I can hardly allow that, right?”
It was a series of surprises. He was jealous of John. Did Emil have a surprisingly crafty side?
Was this his bare self? She thought it would take time until he was frank, but her predictions were overturned one after another.
Even someone like John could only step down after being told this clearly and so he nodded and said “I understand”.
“I didn’t think my true feelings would end up being exposed… Miss Riz, do you dislike such a cowardly man now?”
Emil suddenly turned the conversation to Riz. There was a stiff atmosphere of him probing rather than being self-derisive.
“No, I find that the current you has a sense of humanity.”
“Oh, is that so?”
“Yes, that attitude of mercilessly crushing even a friend with a sharp tongue and cunning in order to protect your pride is wonderful.”
“… Wow, I don’t feel like I was being complimented.”
Emil gave a crooked smile.
“Well, I suppose if I have my wife-to-be’s approval then it’s enough. Now then, Miss Riz, I apologize for the abruptness but how does a date four days from now sound?”
“Yes, I don’t mind.”
After she acknowledged it, Riz hurriedly corrected her own words.
“Actually, can we change the painting appraisal to another date?”
“Do you have an arrangement on that day?”
“No, I was thinking I most definitely would like to meet you four days later, but may we do something else on that day?”
“Why don’t we head out together somewhere? Such as taking a stroll around the lake.”
Emil’s eyes widened. John also looked at Riz with a strange expression.
“Sir Emil, earlier you said you wished for an opportunity to talk slowly together… I’ve thought the same as well.”
He covered his mouth with a hand and had a troubled look.
“No, I really am. To think you’d say something like that.”
“Is it a bother?”
“Certainly not. Only, I did not think you were particularly pleased by the marriage with me.”
Riz lowered her eyes.
He himself seemed to have guessed that she did not try to seriously look at the person called “Emil” until now.
“… I realized I know nothing about the man that is to become my husband. I am neither an amiable woman nor am I skilled at being considerate. However, I want to understand the interests you have and the hobbies you devote yourself to.”
Riz stared straight at Emil.
Marriage was inevitable and she didn’t feel like sparing time for someone she didn’t care about. But at least Emil placed her in his sight. He came to this mansion and tried to exchange words with her.
Even though it was a marriage that began from obligation, if the time they spent together increased, love may sprout out of some sort of chance.
“If you don’t want to follow any of this then don’t force yourself to accept.”
“No, not at all. —I will accompany you on a stroll with pleasure.”
Emil had a gentle smile. As to whether he felt it was a bother or if he did not, she couldn’t grasp his true feelings from his expression.
“I will come for you around two o’clock.”
Saying that, Emil rose to his feet.
“Ah, I just remembered, if possible I would like the matter about the painting to be our secret. Even though I said it was harassment, he still is my friend and it would be awful if bad rumors were spread.”
“My thanks to the Maiden of Stars’ lenience. You don’t have to see me off, I wouldn’t want to stress your delicate body. Now then, until four days later.”
He cracked a joke and then, straightening his back, left the room.
Upon confirming that the door was closed, Riz sighed deeply. She wondered if she would have been praised with “You did well!” if Virma had been here.
Because this daughter, who did not know about love, got a promise to go out with her fiancé.
“… In any case, I saw his surprising true nature.”
When Riz murmured this, John looked down at her with displeasure.
“To head out on purpose, are you sane?”
“You overestimate your own physical strength. What are you thinking when your breathing rises immediately and you aren’t able to walk.”
“I’m thinking about marriage.”
John’s eyebrows drew together. He fiddled with the chain of the pocket watch that dangled from his vest in what seemed like an unconscious action.
“I thought paintings were more important than marriage.”
Riz smiled at those characteristic words. For some reason, her heart hurt.
“John. I am going to marry that person.”
She needed to accept that soon. Emil was a good person. She would surely grow to love him.
That was what she absently thought. Come to think of it, she forgot to hand over the satchet.
“You’re attracted to a man who takes such a superficial attitude?”
“It’s not that I’m attracted to him. But his shadiness has lessened a little.”
“For you to prefer a man who flatters without sincerity. No matter how you look at that man, he has not fallen in love with you.”
Her wavering conscious was returned at John’s remarks.
“You can be a married couple without being attracted to each other. That’s how aristocrats are.”
“What a boring world.”
“It can’t be that demons are all about pure love?”
“Why would you think that?”
John’s gaze gradually became chilly.
“What do you intend to do when it’s time to take your medicine?”
“I’ll bring along other attendants.”
“There isn’t anyone who can care for you more than me. I will accompany you on this bothersome outing four days later.”
“But Sir Emil forbid you from coming with us, John.”
“He forbid me from going to his mansion… from appraising the painting, no?”
Riz was astonished when she was told that in a meaningful tone.
That was true, but it also felt like this wasn’t any different from sophism.
She looked up at John while feeling confused. Why was he coming along when it was an outing that had nothing to do with paintings?
A soft, gentle-like feeling was born for an instant, but then a voice of denial resounded in her head right away.
He was just thinking that it would be annoying if she collapsed and her “Holy Eyes” became useless.
John released the chain of his pocket watch from his fingers and then opened her drawer without permission. He took out the painting of the lime and dangled it to show it to Riz.
“I’m taking this because it is a distorted painting. Agreed?”
The moment she thought he was planning on adding it to his collection, he abruptly ripped that painting.
Riz gaped at him.
“It wasn’t a thickness or hardness that could be torn. Demons are amazing.”
“That’s what you’re surprised by?”
After John looked at Riz with freezing eyes he made the torn painting float into the air and then burned it. It looked like demons didn’t just have superhuman strength, but they could also freely manipulate fire.
“That type of man will undoubtedly have mistresses after marriage.”
John returned to the topic while he watched the ash flutter down.
“Then inheritance disputes will occur and in the end you will be squeezed for all your assets and abandoned.”
John was like a sister-in-law.
“Even if it is an obligation, it is laughable to try and remain married for life to that.”
At last, he started calling Emil “that”.
He seemed to hold enmity towards Emil, but she didn’t understand the reason. Before, Emil was described as a man who was hated by those of the same gender, but did John feel the same as well?
What was a demon envious of in a human?
Their lineage was different, but if it was the beauty of their appearance then John won that. Maybe it was Emil for sociability. Emil also probably won in terms of his personality.
However, knowledge related to the fine arts was absolutely with John. And it was quite an important point for Riz.
“Are you able to content yourself with a husband who has no interest in paintings?”
“Will you be my husband then, John?”
She spilled that out without thinking.
Riz came back to herself when she noticed his wide eyes.
What did she just say.
“Impossible, right? You’re a demon.”
She couldn’t look at John’s face.
“Because I am an aristocrat’s daughter I must get married. It would be another case if I became a nun, but if I remained single in the mansion then it would hurt my family’s name. But, as you also know John, my body isn’t healthy and so I would acquiesce even if my husband had mistresses.”
The words jumped out of her mouth on their own volition.
“You will resign yourself to such a constrained way of life?”
“It’s due to this constrained environment that I’ve managed to live to now.”
If she had been born a commoner she would have lost her life long ago. She didn’t have a body that could endure manual labor. Raising money for medicine would have been doubtful too.
Abundant wealth and a status where she didn’t have to work; it was because both were present that she could safely welcome a day like today.
If she claimed that was unfair, there was no doubt God would be disgusted too.
When unhappiness was born in the heart it was generally because a person was in a state where they couldn’t see themselves or what was around them.
John didn’t hide his displeasure and turned his head away from Riz.
Riz stared at his profile with a strange feeling.
If this man were really her husband— she might have looked forward to waking up every day.
Her imaginations stirred her heart.
Four days later, a Riz who was decorated amply and enthusiastically by Virma’s hands arrived at a teahouse used by artistocrats together with Emil.
This teahouse was once used as a small theater. It was a building characterized by a steep white roof. The mainly red stained glass windows set in the stucco walls were oval. It was said that two hundred years had passed since its construction, but it didn’t feel old.
In the main hall, immediately after entry, there circular tables arranged at intervals.
Its basis was a stand-up buffet. People didn’t sit in chairs and enjoyed their tea while standing. If someone was tired, they could use the lounges on the upper floor. The main attraction wasn’t eating and drinking, but the paintings exhibited on the wall. People were to appreciate that while drinking tea.
This place was used as a salon where anyone who was in the upper class could participate.
Riz heard the exhibits were replaced every two weeks. Today seemed to feature landscape paintings.
“You aren’t tired, are you?”
Emil asked her this with a worried look.
Oddly, Riz and Emil were dressed in deep purple. If a stranger were to see them, they might have looked like an intimate married couple.
Riz glanced behind her as she answered.
Both of their servants stood in attendance behind them. Riz had one maid and John.
Emil also had one man and one woman of the same age; a young man who had the air of being a squire and a woman with red-brown hair.
She returned her gaze to Emil. He looked troubled when she stared intently at him.
Riz inwardly tilted her head and contemplated how he was a strange man.
At the mansion, he came onto her without hesitation as if he were used to it, yet right now he had the air of a sheltered son who didn’t know about relationships with the opposite gender. He was escorting her but seemed strangely stiff.
There was also another strange point. Even though John was nonchalantly accompanying them, he didn’t seem to rebuke that in particular.
“Miss Riz? Is something the matter?”
“Are you not going to compliment me today?”
“Pardon? What do you mean?”
“I dressed up because this is my first outing with you, Sir Emil. And I learned from my mother ‘Elegant Responses Whenever a Man Compliments You’ for a strict three hours.”
Emil’s mouth dropped open and then he snorted. He hid it by coughing.
“Erm, that makes me curious as to what sort of coaching that was.”
“Try complimenting me.”
Riz placed the cup of herbal tea she was holding on a nearby round table.
“Then… You do not need jewels. Your very self is like a jewel.”
“Unfortunately, the response for being compared to a jewel can only be used when our intimacy is slightly higher. Therefore, I will use a response that accommodates any compliment. ‘Oh my! Ohohoho. If you see me as beautiful then it is surely because the flower of love has bloomed in the heart of the gentleman in front of me!’— Is that acceptable?”
Riz even tried placing both hands on her cheeks, glancing upwards, which was a running fashion among ladies in love, and increasing the amount of her blinks. However, she didn’t see the results that Virma insisted would happen.
Emil was looking to the side, trying to contain his laughter, and the attendants, excluding John, stared at Riz as if they were doubting her sanity. John’s eyes were colder than ever before.
“I’m glad you are enjoying yourself.”
“No, I’m sorry. You have a sense of humor, don’t you.”
Emil said that with a face that held traces of laughter. She thought she had relieved a little tension, but a shadow suddenly dropped in those eyes.
“A lady like you is wasted on a man like me.”
“… Because I am an insincere and unsalvageable man.”
He turned his head to the paintings on the wall like he was avoiding Riz’s gaze.
“I’m certain I’ll make you unhappy. I only pray that it will be the most minimum of unhappiness.”
His voice was steeped in distress. Riz thought a little and then threw out questions.
“Do you have an illegitimate child?”
“Do you only love men?”
“Do you have lovers?”
Emil’s voice became stiff only at this last reply.
Silence flowed. The elegant noise of gentlemen and ladies enjoying an appreciation of the paintings and conversation suddenly leapt to her ears.
He turned to Riz after a while. His eyes looked like he had decided on something.
“What if I were to say I was an incessant womanizer and didn’t intend to stop even after marriage? In addition, my stepmother and her son are spendthrifts and, on top of that, egoistic. They’re anticipating your dowry and, regardless of failing once, they will try to start a new business. My father has abandoned that wife and is surrounded by new mistresses.”
Emil’s attendants nervously looked at Riz in light of those shocking statements.
It was likely the truth was included in this story just now. It could be the case that the entire thing was the truth.
She had been prepared but, honestly, any aristocrat had problems to that degree.
“I don’t mind.”
“… Truly? Even if I started living with you, I may bring home lovers to the mansion. Even if I said that?”
It seemed like he hadn’t thought Riz would accept that. Emil lost his words.
“If you’re talking about insincerity then I am the same. I never had the real feeling that I was to marry you. Even now.”
“That’s mutual, isn’t it?”
“No. You sought conversations with me and yet I didn’t try to get close at all. If we can still make it then I would like to spend time together… If you have a lover then I will try to accept her as well.”
“Why would you go to such lengths?”
There was no single reason. There were also feelings of wanting to reassure Virma. Even if love didn’t sprout, she didn’t hate Emil. Besides, there was selfishness. Also resignation. And hopes. Insecurities.
“If love is to sprout one day.”
Emil’s breath caught when she told him that with feelings of a wish.
He met eyes with Riz and his face twisted in pain.
In that moment, “Oh my, Sir Emil!”, a bright voice resounded like it was breaking the tense air. The nearby gentlemen glanced back over their shoulders.
A young lady appeared from behind them. Her floral patterned dress suited her well and she was a beautiful lady with a cheerful air. Like Riz’s sister, Grace, she had glossy black hair.
“How cruel! Reneging on your promise with me to have a clandestine meeting with your ‘fiancée’?”
She placed a hand on the shoulder of Emil, who was surprised, while wearing a smile. For an instant there was danger in those eyes that caught Riz. The suspicion that she had been listening to their conversation, hidden in the shadow of those gentlemen earlier, crossed Riz’s mind.
“Katie, why are you here?”
“I asked the servants at your mansion. It’s not like I came alone, look, Grajas is here too.”
The beautiful woman Emil called Katie fluttered her fingers, which were wrapped in a lace glove, like a butterfly.
When she looked in the direction pointed by those fingers, there was a red-haired man in orange aristocratic clothes coming over with a languid gait.
He was a young man the same age as Emil with a haughty and indolent air that was just like an aristocrat. His complexion was extremely bad. This also tended to be found in young aristocrats, but it may have been a drug addiction.
“Grajas, even you.”
Emil had a bitter expression.
“What’s with that attitude. You’re no fun. You won’t even introduce your fiancée to us.”
Grajas looked around at Riz and the others while laughing carelessly. When he found the attendants of Emil, who looked exhausted, he snorted with disgust. And then, as if thinking of something, he wrapped an arm around the female attendant’s shoulders and pulled her into him. The woman startled and then stiffened.
“Hey, don’t you think so, Colette?”
“Grajas, there are people around. Stop it. Moreover, that girl isn’t Colette, she’s Loretta.”
Emil’s face turned even more unpleasant.
“Ah, right, right, Lola.”
It didn’t feel like he remembered it at all.
“So, that silver-haired woman over there is your fiancée, huh. What was it again? Linda?”
“No. I told you before, it’s Miss Riz.”
“Aah, Rina then.”
Emil gave a heavy sigh and then turned his eyes to Riz.
“I apologize, Miss Riz. He is Grajas Byuman. He’s habitually irresponsible like this… Grajas, don’t trouble my attendant. Release her.”
Grajas released his hand from Loretta, looking like he was forced.
“Over here is Katie Clarke. The two of them are my friends.”
Katie pinched her dress and curtsied to Riz.
Grajas also placed a hand on his chest and gave an exaggerated bow.
“Like the rumors, you’re as beautiful as a doll.”
Katie smiled widely.
It wasn’t a compliment. Before leaving, Virma had taught her this. If she was told she was like a doll from someone who wasn’t close then it was the same as being insulted with ‘You’re only lovely on the outside but you have nothing inside!’ and she should take care. It seemed like Virma had been told that from someone of the same gender before. There had been a deep-seated grudge in the tone of her voice when she was explaining.
“For someone as beautiful as you, is there not anyone better than Sir Emil?”
“You really intend to marry Sir Emil?”
“That’s a problem.”
Here she glared lightly at Emil. It wasn’t a true glare and had a coy atmosphere.
“I was in a relationship with Sir Emil.”
“Because of you I was told we were going to have to separate. However, unlike you with your ‘One day love will sprout’, I am in love with him even now. Do you understand?”
Emil spoke in a harsh voice and stood in front of Katie.
Riz was bewildered. Was this a drama?
Before she knew it, the gentlemen and ladies around them were spectating them from a distance.
The quarrels between a man and woman were one of the pastimes for aristocrats. This must have been an interesting show.
“Emil, didn’t you hate borings girls who are only interested in polishing their beauty like this the most?”
“You’re mistaken. Miss Riz isn’t such a woman.”
“… You’re defending her?”
“I’m not… no, I am. She’s a splendid person.”
Katie flew off the handle at Emil, who looked distressed.
“You’ve had a change of heart already!? What part of this girl is good!? She’s a weak and boring girl who hasn’t shown a single hint of jealousy even when I showed up!”
Riz’s arm was suddenly grabbed. When she looked over her shoulder it was John, who had been looking on calmly, that gripped her wrist.
“I would ask that you correct yourself. My lady is not a doll; she is the Maiden of Stars.”
“John, that correction isn’t needed right now.”
She was looked down at in displeasure, but then his gaze immediately returned to Katie.
“W-what’s with you. Are you a servant?… In that case, be silent.”
“Why must I listen to your order?”
Katie lost her nerve at John’s cool rebuttal. It seemed she was at a loss towards such a brazen attendant.
“Your evaluation is wrong. There is not a single speck of polishing her beauty in my lady’s head.”
“How small is that exactly?”
Riz’s voice was ignored. John held Katie in his gaze and continued speaking.
“She is more passionate than you would expect, just expressionless. I do not deny your point on her frailness, but she does not sell her weakness. Rather than remaining depressed, she chooses what she can do and what she cannot do. Taken together, it means she is a woman who has flaws but can also change those to charms. She is not merely a beautiful piece of work.”
Riz did feel like she was being treated as a painting, but for a moment she was dizzy.
She was probably being praised a lot.
“… Is that lady-killer there Miss Rina’s lover?”
Grajas, who had been watching, interjected.
“Not Rina, Riz. You’re a brainless man and I’d ask you not to open your mouth.”
“John, stop it.”
Riz hurriedly chided him. John’s disguise was being torn off more and more.
“Sir Emil, do not involve my lady in trifling disputes. —We shall excuse ourselves here for today. My lady’s health does not appear to be good.”
He coldly tossed those words over at the paling Emil and strongly pulled Riz’s arm.
“We’re returning home.”
“I’m not feeling particularly bad—“
It was a tone that brooked no argument. He started walking with Riz’s arm still gripped and the maid also scrambled to follow. After they left behind Emil and the others in that place and exited the teahouse, they got onto a carriage. The maid rode a separate carriage.
Until they arrived at a familiar area, John, who was sitting beside her, didn’t open his mouth.
It was Riz who was unable to bear the silence.
“John, it looks like it was as you said.”
The instant he spoke the sound of horseshoes striking the flagstones and the outside noises became distant all at once. She couldn’t even feel the vibrations of the seat. A comfortable and quiet space was created in the carriage. Riz wondered if John used some kind of power. It was times like these when she was jealous of a demon’s abilities.
“You said Sir Emil was a man who would have mistresses after marriage, right?”
She ended up experiencing drama before the marriage. She didn’t see Emil as the insincere man he said he was, but maybe it was different when it came to men and women.
“My lady, your viewpoint is not bad but do not let the answer in front of your eyes warp like a refraction of light.”
He removed his glasses and it was clear a stiffness was released from his body. Riz also breathed easier.
“Knowing he is a good-for-nothing, do you still intend to get married?”
Riz suppressed the trembling in her heart at his question and nodded.
“No. Give up on that man.”
“I can’t do that.”
“My lady, know your own value correctly. If you were a woman with no charm apart from those Holy Eyes, I would have killed you a long time ago.”
For an instant she was struck dumb at those unexpected words. It felt like she’d get her hopes up for something.
No, it was impossible for him, a demon, to seriously be drawn to her. But.
“I know. Prioritizing me at all times… It’s because we have this contract that you’re saying kind things, right, John?”
This was better than being rejected. As she told herself this in her mind, his expression became severe.
“I now want to kill you.”
John looked at Riz with harsh eyes for a short while, but eventually a sigh leaked out.
“Honestly, humans are irritating…”
“I’m tired. Wake me when we arrive.”
He threw out words that made Riz question which one of them was the master, dropped his glasses in her hand, and leaned against her shoulder. She wondered why she didn’t push him away even though he was heavy.
The answer couldn’t be found.
T/N: I thought this was an interesting chapter, because I didn’t mind Emil and was even impressed with him at the beginning of this chapter. And then the last bit hits you. He sounds like a normal man who is so lonely that he’d rather stick with people who hate him than be alone (not to mention he’s probably taken advantage of by his family; remember, he’s not the eldest or heir). Not to mention, if you wear a mask long enough it becomes you and he sounds trapped in his own civility, tsk tsk.
But I really love how he and Riz were trying to get closer. I have the feeling that he did tell Katie he hated those types of women and has that misassumption about Riz until he met her for the first time in Chapter One. And now he regrets it but he’s also, again, trapped by his own mask. Maybe if this was another story we’d see these two work out their differences with sincerity, but instead he just gets crushed being beside John who goes for what he wants.
On that note, I’ve read Japanese reviews commenting about how John warms up really fast to Riz and I’m curious as to what everyone thinks. He seems to reveal a lot of things in this chapter, but I also feel like it’s not too fast and not too slow. The author likes to emphasize how inhuman and strange demons are, so I think it makes sense that once John comes to a decision on something he doesn’t question his feelings. That and I wonder how much of his personality IS influenced by his contractor and the contract they have.
Note1: Grajas is Spanish in this translation— LOL, sorry, it’s just that his name is pronounced “Gu-ra-ha-su” phonetically, but no matter I tried to spell that it looked dumb, so I just went with Google’s suggestion about turning it into a “j” and assuming a Spanish pronunciation.