“Well,” Jade asked, “During the swordsmanship competition, didn’t you collapse in the audience? I don’t think it’s simply a rumor.”
Lobelia’s eyes widened in surprise. She hadn’t expected him to be aware of that.
“How do you know?” she asked him.
“It’s been a long time, but I still recall the one side of the crowd having a commotion,” Jade replied. He did remember Lobelia, but he didn’t seem to care much about her.
“I had forgotten to bring my hat,” Lobelia retorted, “and it was too hot that day.”
“If you say so.” Jade nodded and clasped his hands together. “Now let’s hear what you can give me.”
Lobelia steadied her gaze on the duke. His silhouette was deepened by the sun behind him.
“I can solve the Duke’s biggest concern.”
“My biggest concern?” Jade questioned, knitting his eyebrows.
“Yes,” Lobelia nodded gravely.
Jade, on the other hand, laughed dryly. “Don’t say that you’ll make the dukedom independent from the imperial family or restore the duke’s heirloom. Contrary to what many people believe, that’s not what I want,” he said coldly, wiping the smile from his face.
“I know,” replied Lobelia.
Jade paused at Lobelia’s crisp answer before asking, “You know?”
Lobelia smiled. She had waited and waited for this moment to come.
“The Duke’s greatest desire is to be freed from the curse of the unknown.”
Many things unfolded in a mere moment. Lobelia watched Jade stand from his seat and in the next second, a sword had threatened her neck. Jade glared at Lobelia with hostile eyes.
“How,” he growled, “do you know that?”
Unfazed, Lobelia laughed despite the blade inches away from her throat. All this time Jade Ferrado had been looking down at her from his high horse, and now the tables have turned. Lobelia had managed to provoke him enough for him to unsheathe his sword. This way, she could get him to accept her proposal.
“I’m a gypsy’s daughter,” Lobelia said softly.
Jade remained silent, narrowing his eyes at Lobelia. He wouldn’t withdraw the sword until she came up with a convincing explanation.
“My mother taught me a lot about the magic of the people and the gypsies. She also taught me how to recognize someone who has been under witchcraft. As soon as I saw the Duke at the swordsmanship competition, I knew.” Lobelia’s eyes gleamed. “You’re cursed, sire.”
Needless to say, every word was a lie. Julia wanted her daughter to live a peaceful life; hence, she did not share any knowledge of the gypsies with Lobelia. It was through the Original that Lobelia learned about Jade’s curse.
Jade took his sword away. It seemed Lobelia’s reasoning sounded quite convincing. However, Lobelia stayed cautious. The sword may be taken, but it was alive. One mistake and she’d have her life in jeopardy.
“You’re afraid to fall asleep every night. Every time, you wonder what kind of demon will appear and consume you.”
The duke’s gaze faltered at Lobelia’s words. It was a secret he had kept to himself. Unbeknownst to others, Jade Ferrado was cursed by something horrible that consumed his being until he’d eventually lose his humanity.
According to the Original, the duke went out to subjugate immigrants on the orders of the emperor and was attacked by a man who practiced sorcery.
Normally, the duke is able to suppress the curse, but whenever he wields his sword, the curse overpowers him without his knowledge. The curse was the reason why he had acted like a sadistic man during the swordsmanship battle.
“I can break that curse,” Lobelia said.
“How?” Jade asked reluctantly. He wanted her gone at this very moment to deny this curse she claimed he had. But he knew he shouldn’t. If he remained the way he was at this rate, he’d turn into a monster in five years.
“The curse creeps on you when you fall asleep, and it’s especially powerful at night. Wait, can I take out what I’ve prepared?” asked Lobelia.
Jade nodded, and Lobelia took a small perfume bottle from her pocket. Not only did she discover the duke’s curse in the Original, she also gained knowledge in magic.
“This is a sleeping potion I made. It’s only a temporary solution and not the definite cure, but by using this you’ll know whether or not I’ve been truthful.”
Lobelia placed the bottle on the table and said, “If you confirm that what I say is true, summon me”. When Jade didn’t say anything, Lobelia lowered her head in a small bow and took her leave.
With Lobelia gone, Jade sank into a chair and exhaled the breath he had been holding. His eyes glowed dangerously as he stared at the potion suspiciously, eventually holding it in his hand.
* * *
Lobelia quickly returned to his uncle’s manor after her visit to the duke. She hoped her arrival wouldn’t alert anyone, but unfortunately, the person she least wanted to run into was waiting for her.
“Lobelia,” called Marlon.
He was trimming the branches of a flowering tree in the garden when Lobelia arrived. Lobelia swallowed involuntarily, not from fear or worry, but to resist the urge to snatch the scissors from Marlon’s hands and stab him at once.
Marlon looked down at Lobelia with his sunken eyes and questioned her, “Where have you gone for so long?”
“I went to the temple to pray.” Lobelia pulled out a token of blessing from the temple. She had stopped on her way out of the duke’s residence to pick it up. After Julia was cremated, Lobelia continued to pray at the temple where her mother’s ashes were stored.
“Oh dear, you must have gone there again,” Marlon sighed. “It’s good to pray in the temple, but in the future, be punctual and come back. Isn’t it already past the afternoon tea time?”
“I am your protector,” Marlon added, “and I hope you don’t do anything that worries me.”
“Yes,” Lobelia replied, lowering her eyes. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Good. Now go where you need to be.” Marlon ordered, oblivious to his niece’s thoughts.
Lobelia waited until Marlon disappeared before heading to the outhouse. Upon arriving, she took off her robe and draped it over the chair, sighing. She had expended a lot of energy pretending to be docile. Oh how badly she wanted to stab him right then and there, but he should not die an easy death.
You’ll have to taste everything I’ve been through.
She had already taken the first step, which was meeting the Duke of Ferrado. The only thing she could do now was await his reply.
To congratulate herself for a job well done, Lobelia headed to the kitchen to brew herself some tea. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door.