Chapter 27: Because I’m Cursed
TW: Mentions of child abuse
Theodore, who had run off, came back with Finneas.
According to Finneas, Ailette had extreme malnutrition and her level of immunity was very low.
Although it was unclear how she arrived here, it must have been an arduous journey, for she had a high fever.
When all possible treatments were finished, Theodore said he would contact her parents, but I dissuaded him.
It felt like it wouldn’t be too late to do so after waiting for the child to wake up.
Her high fever continued on to the next day.
Since I knew Ailette might be alarmed if she woke up to strangers, I stayed by her side the entire night and took care of her myself.
The only task was wiping her feverish body with a towel, so even though Theodore, Finneas, and Selphius said they’d assist, only I could.
And finally, on the second day after she’d collapsed… Rumble.
Ailette opened her eyes with the loud rumble of her stomach at the scent of delicious food.
She sniffed to smell the food while blinking her blurry eyes.
“Are you awake?” I asked calmly, despite the fact that I was startled by the sudden opening of her red eyes.
I then placed the tray holding the brunch on the table.
At the unfamiliar voice, Ailette must have been surprised, for she got up in a rush.
I approached Ailette and lightly touched her shoulders.
“It’s okay, lie down.”
It seemed the suffering she’d endured all night long had been worth it, for her fever had gone down.
“Do you know where you are?”
Ailette’s memory must have been hazy because she anxiously scanned her surroundings with round eyes.
She seemed like a baby deer being chased by a hunter.
“This is Grand Duke Lapileon’s estate.”
“Heok, the L-Lapileon estate?”
Ailette’s eyes widened in shock as she pulled the blanket all the way up to her nose.
Although I wasn’t talented at dealing with children, I wanted to do my best.
“Um… first of all, hi!”
You should start with a greeting first.
“Do you know who I am, by any chance?”
At my question, Ailette hesitatingly nodded her head.
Then, with a very terrified expression, she whispered, “I-Is my mom here too?”
I could see the child visibly relaxing.
“We haven’t contacted her yet.
We thought it’d be better to do it after you woke up… Anyway, did you come here yourself?”
Ailette must have felt shy, for she avoided my gaze and nodded her head.
Seeing Ailette’s outward nervousness, I tried to speak with a kinder voice than normal.
You’re amazing to come here by yourself.
Where did you come from?”
Miyari was a small suburb that would take longer than a week to travel from with even a carriage.
It was much too far of a distance for this small child to come here on her own. Rumble.
A loud noise, like a foghorn, came from the guest room.
Ailette must have been embarrassed, for she tightly grasped onto the blanket with a red face.
What did she have to be sorry for? Watching my reaction stealthily, Ailette rushed to add on.
“I-If I drink water, it won’t make a sound.
I-I’ll hurry and drink some water.”
She must have felt small about something, for Ailette’s voice was very quiet.
‘She’s hungry, but she’s going to drink water?’
It was definitely strange.
Ailette got up from bed to find some water.
Watching Ailette silently, I brought the tray with brunch on it to the bed.
“Why are you drinking water when you’re hungry? You should eat food.”
I should’ve given it to you as soon as you woke up.
You must have been hungry from sleeping for two days, right?”
Ailette stared at the fancy brunch atop the bed with a flustered face.
I could hear the loud sound of her swallowing back her spit.
She must have been very hungry, yet she didn’t move her hand to the food.
I heard her gulp back several times.
I stared at Ailette’s face with a questioning expression.
“What’s wrong? Does your hand hurt? If it’s hard to hold the cutlery, do you want me to bring some child-sized cutlery?”
Ailette shook her head strongly.
Then, she stretched her neck and took another look around her.
“Mom and Dad are really not here…?”
Dad? Didn’t they say she was raised by her mom alone?
“Yeah, it’s just you here.”
“T-Then can I really eat this all by myself?”
I stared at the brunch on the tray.
There was soup, seasonal fruit salad, a toasted buttered piece of bread, as well as a thinly sliced ham, a roasted sausage, and fluffy scrambled eggs.
Given that it was her first meal in two days, there was less food than usual to avoid overwhelming her stomach.
“Of course it’s all yours.
Did you want to share? Ah, is it because there’s not enough? Do you want more?”
“No! No… It’s not too little, it’s too much…”
Too much? I stared at the plate on the tray.
Developing children should eat all this and want more.
“Eat it for now.
If there’s too much, leave it, and if there’s not enough, let me know.
I can get you more.”
Ailette nodded with a flushed expression.
Gathering courage, Ailette touched the ends of the cutlery.
However, just like earlier, she wasn’t able to pick up the cutlery and just stared at the food, picking at the skin next to her nails.
“I heard from Theodore.
Your name’s Ailette?” I asked Ailette kindly, before putting the cutlery in her hands myself.
Her hands were covered with unexplainable scars.
While nodding, she carefully took a spoonful of soup.
She must have liked it, for her big eyes widened.
After that, she hurriedly began putting food into her mouth.
Rather than eating, it would be more fitting to say that she just shoved it in her mouth; that’s how frantically she swallowed her food.
She must not have learned how to use cutlery properly, for she used both the cutlery and her hands at the same time.
“There’s more food, so eat slowly.
Your stomach could get upset.”
At my words, Ailette stopped with her mouth filled with food.
Then, she stared at me with fearful eyes, like a child who was scared she would be scolded.
‘Let’s not speak to her while she’s eating.’
Instead of speaking, I smiled.
Then, I reached out to wipe her sauce-covered cheek with a handkerchief.
When my hand approached, Ailette covered her head with both arms in a defensive position.
It was definitely weird.
I carefully wiped the sauce from her lips and cheeks before backing away, prompting Ailette to blink.
When she realized I wasn’t showing any signs of hurting her, she started eating again.
‘Let’s clean her after she finishes eating.’
She must have been worried that someone might take it away from her and tell her to stop eating, for Ailette ate while continuing to look at her surroundings.
It was pitiful to see.
Because it wasn’t a large amount, the food disappeared quickly.
Looking at the empty plate in disappointment, she smacked her lips.
Seeing her staring at her fingers, she seemed to be on the verge of licking the sauce off her fingers.
“You shouldn’t eat what’s on your fingers,” I said quietly, not wanting Ailette to be surprised.
Then, I wiped her hands and face with my handkerchief.
Although she nodded, she couldn’t hide her disappointment.
I chuckled before getting up from my chair.
“If you’re a true lady, you need to finish with dessert.”
I picked the tray with the empty plate up from the bed and opened the bedroom door.
The maid that had been waiting in front of the door took the empty tray and gave me a tray filled with desserts.
I took the dessert-filled tray and approached Ailette’s bed once again.
“Do you think you can eat this too?”
A milk pudding covered with a caramel sauce.
Whipped cream cake with a big strawberry on top.
A soft souffle pancake.
And a chewy brownie cookie.
They were small pieces, so it was definitely an amount you could eat.
“Okay, you eat the pudding with a spoon and the cake with a fork.”
After teaching Ailette how to use the utensils, I sat down in the chair next to her again.
She must have been fairly full, for she slowly ate the desserts using the utensils the way I’d taught her.
The fact that Ailette consumed all of the sweet treats suggested that she enjoyed them.
After putting the tray away, I wiped her lips with a handkerchief.
“Oh no, the sauce got on your clothes.”
When I looked at the dirty clothing, Ailette flinched in surprise before staring down at her clothes.
To be honest, it was already quite dirty even if the sauce hadn’t gotten on it.
“This won’t do.”
After I put the handkerchief down, Ailette’s shoulders started shaking at my firm words.
I wanted to ask her what had happened to her, but what came first was taking care of her.
“Y-Yes? I-It was my fault.
I-I didn’t know how to eat them because it was my first time… I-I’ll clean all of the clothes myself.”
“Don’t you want to wash?”
“If you dip your body into a clean bath that smells good, you’ll feel refreshed.
Let’s bathe, okay?”
I smiled at Ailette before getting up.
Then I opened the bedroom door and spoke to the maid waiting outside.
“The Lady will bathe, so prepare it right away.
Put everything good in it generously.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“And the bed cover has gotten dirty, so change it with a new one.
Oh yeah, and the bed seemed a little hard, so put a more comfortable blanket on top.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“Throw away all of the clothes and shoes she was wearing and prepare new ones.
Contact the nearby boutique shops immediately and buy everything.
I’ll fund everything myself, so don’t worry about that.
And bring some dolls that the Lady might like.”
The true value of my money was finally seeing light.
“Ah, and let everyone know that the Lady has awoken.”
Since everyone had been desperately waiting on Ailette.
At my command, the maid nodded before asking.
“His Excellency sent a letter to Miss Sercia and Miss Gloria about the Young Lady; should I let them know as well?”
By Miss Gloria, she must have been referring to Theodore’s grandmother—the scary person.
Since she was supposed to be staying in the capital…
I nodded my head.
Since this was related to the Lapileon family, I thought everyone should know.
“…Oh, and I’ll wash her myself, so let nobody in.”
“Understood, Your Highness.”
I wanted to confirm the state of the child’s body.
To prepare for an unforeseen situation, nobody else should come in.
After giving all of my orders, I turned to Ailette and smiled.
Ailette stared at me like I was talking gibberish.
“Okay, let’s go, Ailette!”
* * *
“…Is it really okay for me to wear these clothes?”
Ailette fiddled with her new pretty dress.
Unlike her worried tone, she must have liked how the dress fit her body perfectly, for she had a small smile on her lips.
Ailette, who had a pretty frilly dress on with her hair tied into pigtails, looked like an angel.
Other than that, all of the clothes here are yours, Ailette.”
When I gestured at the dresses that filled the dressing room, smiling, Ailette let out a soundless scream, opening her mouth wide.
Ailette looked around at the dresses.
My eyes chilled watching that from behind.
As I’d expected, the child’s body was covered with bruises and scars.
And that was just in the places you could see her wearing clothes.
I could guess what that meant.
“I’m so happy you’re here, Ailette, so this is a present I’m giving to you.
It must have been hard to come here all by yourself, wasn’t it?”
At my question, Ailette stopped fidgeting with her dress and carefully nodded her head.
She appeared to have let down her guard.
I lifted Ailette and sat her down on the comfortable bed and continued with a careful question.
“But did you come here to see Theodore?”
So she wasn’t here to see Theodore.
“Then did you come to play?”
So not this, either.
While I was thinking about my next question, Ailette slowly lifted a finger.
It was pointed at me.
For the first time, Ailette nodded her head.
“You came to see me?”
Nod. Ailette bowed her head, as if embarrassed.
“How did you know about me?”
Ailette’s finger wriggled.
Then, she whispered with a tiny voice.
“…I saw the letter.”
“A letter that Miss Seci sent…”
Sercia had sent a letter? Ah, now that I thought about it, Finneas had said he’d received a letter from Sercia as well.
“That the curse didn’t work on you… That you might be the person who might help us find out how to escape from this curse… I read it secretly, so Mom didn’t know.”
So Sercia had sent letters to the entire family.
But she’d read it secretly so her mom wouldn’t know? She had to be careful about reading letters as well? I frowned.
At my call, Ailette lifted her head.
“Are you living with your mom right now?”
The child’s shoulders started shaking severely at the word ‘mom.’ Ailette pressed her lips together tightly and seemed not to want to reply.
“Ailette, do you want Sister to speak first?”
“For me, my mom and dad both passed away.”
“So after living with my stepmom, I came to live here.
What about you, Ailette?”
Smiling, I outstretched a hand toward Ailette.
Hesitating at first, Ailette clasped her tiny hand with mine.
Then, after looking around at her surroundings, she quietly whispered into my ear.
“I don’t have a dad either.
I live with my mom, stepdad, and brother.”
The fact that she had a stepdad and a brother meant that Ailette’s birth mother must have gotten remarried.
Trying not to feel sympathetic, I lowered my voice along with hers.
Ailette, you’re similar to me!”
Ailette nodded her head.
“I don’t have a good relationship with my stepmom.
Do you also have a bad relationship with your mom, Ailette?”
Ailette called me before fisting her dress up.
She must have been nervous, for the hand in mine was damp with sweat.
“Then do you also get hit by your mom, Sister?”
My heart dropped.
I’d expected it, but hearing it come from her lips directly was truly a big shock.
I clenched the hand that wasn’t holding hers.
“Your mom hits you, Ailette?”
Without a moment of hesitation, Ailette nodded her head.
Then, as if believing this was reasonable, she mumbled.
“Because I’m cursed.”
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