MERISSA trembled and bowed as low as she could. "Y-Your Grace, I apologized. I-I didn't plan to conceal my real i-identity. Me ending up in Hanover manor was truly just a c-coincidence. I'm n-not here because I have some u-ulterior m-motive. Truly, Your Grace. I do not harbor any ill intention to y-you or anyone living in this m-manor. Please, please, believe me. I will immediately p-pack my bags and leave. But please, Your Grace, I hope that my s-stay in here won't get out in the public. A-and if- if you could find it in your heart, I hope that you can forgive my unintentional deceit."
Argent looked at Merissa's low posture and sighed. "You shouldn't bow your head at the drop of a hat. It would make people think that they can look down on you that easily." She helped her stand up properly. "I'm not planning to kick you out nor do I plan to go running around town spreading the news that you're here. So for goodness' sake, calm down. We can't talk properly if you keep trembling in fear."
Merissa tried to calm down, just as the young duke asked. She shouldn't really be afraid. She knew they only met for a couple of days, but ever since, he hadn't shown any ill-will towards her. Even now, after knowing who she really was, there was no judgement in his indifferent face. Not even the slightest bit of disgust. She was not sure how the young duke put two and two together, but she was glad that it was him who found out. If it was any other person, she would probably be thrown out by now. And then the people who were after her would immediately know where she was.
Merissa took a deep, calming breath. "Thank you, Your Grace."
"Now, I know it's not any of my business, but seeing that you're now living under my roof, I want to know exactly what happened to you." Argent immediately saw the hesitation on Merissa's face. "Look, with those burn scars and the way Nelly found you, I know you're running from someone. I could help you. If you just trust me, that is."
Merissa lowered her gaze. She felt extremely tangled. On one hand, she was thankful for the duke's offer. But on the other, she doesn't want him or anyone in here to be entangled by her problems. "I--"
"Merissa, is that your real name?" Argent interrupted what Merissa was about to say.
"Yes, it's Merissa Grant."
"Okay, Merissa, if you don't want to tell me anything, then you can listen to my story. A young and beautiful singer caught the attention of the King. She fell in love and they had an affair. That affair lead to the singer being pregnant. After finding out about her pregnancy, she felt afraid and decided to run. Because she knew her child would be like a taboo existence to the royal family. Especially to the Queen. You settled in a quiet village. You're happy, at least until the King found out about the existence of your son.
"With his SS level Gift, the King decided to take him back. Leaving you alone. Also, probably telling you that you're not allowed to see your son again. But then later on, the Queen found out about your whereabouts. And being the petty person she is, she ordered people to kill you. Properly by setting fire where you lived. But you somehow survived. Thus, the burn scars. You've been on the run since then. Which brought you to Greth. Out of exhaustion, you fainted in the middle of the road and that's where Nelly found you. How am I doing so far?"
Merissa was speechless. She almost thought that the duke was with her during all those times. Despite the situation, she couldn't help but smile. "You missed some details, Your Grace." She lowered her gaze, there was really no reason now not to tell him everything. "I was an orphan. Singing was all I have. Being a part of that theater company was like a dream to me. I thought that nothing could be better. And then he came along. He lavished me with gifts, told me all the things I wanted to hear, he made me feel special. That was the first time I ever felt that way."
Argent raised her brow. She couldn't imagine that sly king was capable of all that. But she guessed, every person was capable of being romantic once in a while. Though she could never really imagine that of herself.
"I was a stupid girl back then. I fell in love with someone I shouldn't. I know it was wrong. But my heart just wouldn't listen. And just as Your Grace said, I became pregnant. But I ran because when I told him about my pregnancy, he told me to get rid of it. When I asked him why, he answered that a mere mistress doesn't have the qualification to carry the royal blood. That's when I realized that I had only been fooling myself. I fell in love with an image I created inside my head. Because for him, I was just a mere plaything," Merissa continued, a bitter and deprecating smile on her lips.
Now that sounded more like the King, Argent thought.
"I ran and stayed at a small village where I gave birth to Winter. He was such a beautiful baby. The moment I laid my eyes on him, an indescribable emotion filled my heart. And that's when I knew what true love really meant. The six years I spent with Winter was the happiest days of my life. He was such a treasure. Just one smile from him and I was immediately filled with happiness." There was a nostalgic smile on Merissa's face, as if she was remembering those times.
"And then he found us. I was so horrified that day. It felt like my world was slowly crumbling. But then I looked at Winter and there was so much joy on his little face. That was the time I found out how much he longed for a father. So when Winter happily told me that his father would be taking us back, I just didn't have the heart to tell him that that probably was the last time we could meet. He took Winter and I was sent to a manor at the edge of the kingdom."
Merissa touched her chest. It was like she was back at that time again, seeing her son happily waving at her, not knowing that that would be the last time they would see each other. Just like that day, she felt like her heart was being torn into pieces. She forced herself not to cry, but a tear still slipped out of her eyes.
"The servants and guards there were sent to monitor my every move. To make sure that I wouldn't do anything to contact Winter. For the next ten years, I spent my life there. Together with people who couldn't even be bothered to hide their disgust for me. Then two years ago, two men kidnapped me in the middle of the night. I woke up in a shed and heard them talking how I would be used as a leverage against Winter. So he wouldn't even dare to fight for the crown.
"When I heard that, I just lose my mind. I couldn't bear to let them used me to threaten Winter. So I fought them with all my might. That's when the fire happened. I somehow managed to survive. That's where these scars came from. An old woman found me floating on the river. She took me to her village. She didn't have the means to call for a healer, so the scars remained. As soon as I was able to walk, I left. Because I just knew those people won't stop until they find me. I've been running ever since. And that, Your Grace, was the truth of it all."
Argent digested everything Merissa told her. The things that happened to her was almost the same as what Argent thought. But there's just one thing that's been bothering her. "The two men who kidnapped you, do you know who sent them?"
Merissa shook her head. "But as Your Grace said, it might be the Queen. That's why I couldn't be a burden to Winter. If there's a chance that Winter could be next king, then I wouldn't want to be a hindrance to that."
Argent stared at Merissa. "When you made that decision, have you taken into account your son's feelings?"
"You saw him, when he came here to visit. Did you see any semblance of the kid you once knew?"
With the young duke's question, Merissa recalled the day of Winter's visit here. But she was so flustered that day, the only thing she could think of was how much her son had grown. She couldn't even remember the expression he had that day. "I--"
"He's not smiling. You said that Black reminded you of Winter. Well, Black is the farthest person I would use to describe the second prince now. I think he lost his smile the moment the two of you separated. He's no longer that happy kid. Frankly, it would be weird if he didn't change at all, considering the kind of 'family' he grew up with. Deciding not to contact him, do you really think that was the best course of action? For you and for him?" Argent said, her voice full of seriousness.
Merissa felt like she was slapped awake by the duke's words. These past 12 years, she just assumed that Winter has been living a happy and full life as the second prince of Albion. She had never thought of the consequence of him living with the Queen and her children. All she could think of was how much she would taint Winter's reputation if she ever contacted him. That his image to the people would be destroyed. That's why even though no one has been monitoring her every move for the last two years, she never thought of contacting Winter. But because of the duke's few simple words, she realized just how wrong she was.
"I'm a horrible mother," she said, she couldn't help the sob that escaped her throat.
"Maybe. But you can easily remedy that. Meet with the second prince. Be the mother that you always wanted to be and let him be the son he should. I don't think he's so weak that he wouldn't even be able to protect you. Or his position as a prince."
Merissa no longer stopped herself from crying. "Yes. Yes, I will."
"Good. Then I will contact the second prince so the two of you could meet here."
"T-thank you, Your Grace," she said while sobbing and smiling at the same time. "But may I ask, why do you want to help us?"
"Well, some members of the royal family annoyed the hell out of me. So I thought of giving them some problems to ponder on. And you, my dear Merissa, are just the perfect problem they wouldn't be able to easily fix."
Argent grinned, mischief filled her purple eyes, making her face even more beautiful.
Chapter 60! Man, I couldn't believe I managed to release 10 chapters in just 2 weeks. Yes, it wasn't that much compared to other authors here. But for me, it is. I hope you could bear with me. Because for now, 5 chapters a week is really my limit. (੭ ˃̣̣̥ ㅂ˂̣̣̥)੭ु
Anyways, next chapter will be posted Monday next week. ⁽(◍˃̵͈̑ᴗ˂̵͈̑)⁽
Thank you to everyone who voted and gave gifts this week! Domo arigatou!~ (ﾉ≧∀≦)ﾉ
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