A First Encounter
――Ah, how could such a thing happen to me?
As the young woman jolted in her seat after the carriage rolled over yet another pothole in the road she glared at the maidservant sitting opposite to her.
“Is this truly the only road that leads there?” She asked, almost spitting the words out.
“Yes, Lady Evelyn.” The maid replied rather calmly considering just how foul her master’s mood was.
“Hmph, this is why I detest the countryside…”
Turning away from that dull servant, she looked out the window. Far from the wonderful sights of the capital, the view she beheld now was nothing more than patches of farmland scratched out in the gaps between the craggy hills that dotted the landscape, the monotony only being broken up every so often with farmhouses so decrepit looking to her they seemed abandoned.
For Evelyn von Kreutz, this was not the sort of scenery she had ever expected to see. Born into a ducal family, she had been raised not so much with a silver spoon in her mouth since birth, instead, it was if the spoon had moulded with her tongue. The house of von Kreutz was rich and powerful, a family that had produced generations of skilled and able ministers for the royal family of Liechzern. As the daughter of the current minister of the royal treasury, she had received an excellent education and inherited many of her ancestor’s qualities in talent and looks, but her personality was another matter entirely.
She had been expelled from the royal academy at the age of sixteen after it came to light just what lengths she had reached in order to harass and bully various girls, both commoners and daughters of nobility, who she either envied or simply disliked on whatever whim struck her that day. What’s more, the Prime Minister of the country annulled Evelyn’s engagement to his son out of sheer embarrassment.
For the next five years, she barely left the house. Not out of any personal shame or regret, but simply because her father couldn’t find her a position because she never completed her education, as well as the fact that he also couldn’t find her a single suitor because of the horrid (and true) rumours about her.
That was, of course, until he received a letter.
“To think that father would accept that offer,” Evelyn sighed as another run down country home passed her eyes. “Just how much shame does he intend to bring to the name of von Kreutz?”
“I don’t think any further shame is possible,” the maid said under her breath.
“Did you say something, Anne?”
“Nothing at all, Lady Evelyn,” she replied, not even looking at her.
The carriage trundled on.
“Ah, you must be the von Krootz lady, right this way.”
“Kreutz,” Evelyn snarled.
“Right you are m’lady, my mistake.”
The old servant didn’t seem sorry at all as she held open the door to the carriage. Before she stepped out, Evelyn looked at her incredulously.
“Where is the footman?” She asked the old woman.
“What is that, exactly?”
“I believe that Lady Evelyn is expecting assistance exiting the carriage,” Anne explained. Even if her voice didn’t betray it, her eyes looked apologetic as she glanced at the servant.
“What’s the matter, does she have trouble walking?” The woman wondered as she looked Evelyn up and down.
“How dare you, you rude old ha-“
“Lady Evelyn, I’ll help you down,” Anne interceded before the situation got even worse.
After Anne stepped down from the coach, she enlisted the coachman who was taking care of his horses to help Evelyn out afterwards. As she felt solid ground beneath her heeled shoes, she looked up at the manor house and frowned thunderously. The wall of stones surrounding it barely reached her waist and looked like it was already crumbling. The manor itself must have been painted blue at one point, perhaps fifty years ago, but now that coat of paint was deeply faded and peeling, with unruly vines running up all four floors on the right side of the building.
It was even worse than she had imagined.
“Arnold is waiting for you in the parlour,” the old woman sniffed, motioning towards the front door.
“Oh, right, you probably know him as Count Hasse.”
The man her father had given her away to. All she knew about him was that his family had run this fief for a long time and that they used to be quite a well-to-do house. Of course, their fortunes had reversed in the past couple of generations, but after the developments in the capital that was true for most of the old landed nobility that didn’t adjust to the new order.
She had hoped that, even if they weren’t rich, they would at least carry the airs of nobility. But right now it was as if she was really walking up the path to one of those disgusting old houses she had seen on the way here.
And that wasn’t even mentioning the smell. It wasn’t just the mud from the previous night’s rain; she held her nose as she stepped through the gates. Looking this way and that for the source of that violent odour, she couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw a pigsty in what should have been the manor’s front garden, with two sows completely caked in filth looking at her with beady eyes.
“Wha-!” When she stepped back completely out of shock, her heel caught on an errant root and she toppled over.
She felt the mud seeping into the back of her red dress and brunette hair that was splayed out behind her. As she stared up at that cloudy sky, tears began to well up in her eyes. Why? Why did she have to suffer like this? What had she ever done to deserve it?
“Hey, watch your step now.”
“Ah, Lady Evelyn, be careful.”
Just before she was about to start bawling, a hand reached out to her. As she blinked away tears, she expected to be staring into Anne’s cold face, but the reality was quite different.
“Are you okay?”
It was a young boy who couldn’t have been older than twelve that extended a hand to her. He was well dressed considering his surroundings with not a speck of mud dirtying his white shirt; his cute face was complimented by short dark brown hair on his head that was neatly cut over his ears.
But, what struck her most of all were his eyes. They looked far deeper than any eyes a boy his age should have, as if they had already been filled with a lifetime of experience. And right now, the expression reflected in those eyes was one of genuine worry.
For the past five years, as far as she could remember, she had always been looked at with contempt or pity, or a mixture of the two. She couldn’t recall the last time someone other than her father had even cared to talk with her outside of paying lip service or if it was necessary for their job. But right now, she found herself lost for words as she stared into those empathetic eyes.
“Sorry about that, the path can be pretty rough… What’s your name?”
“Ah… Evelyn… Evelyn von Kreutz. And you are?”
The boy froze after pulling Evelyn to her feet. Those eyes full of empathy suddenly looked wild and panicked.
His mouth gaped open and closed like a fish as if he desperately wanted to say something, but the words must have stuck in his throat. And after finally regaining a little composure… He turned and sprinted back towards the house.
“What a bashful little boy,” Evelyn said, watching his back. “Hah, well, I suppose I can’t fault him for knowing beauty when he sees it.”
“Lady Evelyn,” Anne finally came up to her side, it didn’t seem like she had been in much of a rush to help her when she had fallen. “Shall we see to getting you a change of clothes once we’re indoors?”
“Hmm?” Evelyn looked down at her mud splotched dress; the encounter with that boy had made her forget her situation for just a moment. “Ah, yes. Hurry up, will you.”
With that, she made her way up towards the house, a bit more pomp in her step than before.
――How the hell did this happen to me!?
Were they already on to him? But that can’t be right; he hadn’t even done anything yet. This wasn’t how the story was supposed to go at all.
He knew that Count Hasse, his father, was going to be engaged today. That happened the previous time as well, but it was supposed to be to the daughter of some neighbouring baron he couldn’t even remember the name of, why was it her of all people!?
The boy raced up the stairs and ran into his bedroom, locking the door tightly behind him.
This was his second attempt at this life, though the truth is that it was his third life if he counted the memories of his previous life.
To him, this wasn’t the country of Liechzem or the farm dotted county of Hasse, this was the world of a novel he adored years and years ago in his previous life. He still remembered reading the book for the second time until some crazy hour in the morning, falling asleep on the couch. When he woke up, he found himself in the body of a ten year old boy. Rather, that’s what it felt like. The truth was that he still had memories of that boy’s childhood, so maybe those memories of a past life had simply been dormant up until then? Or did he inherit the boy’s memory when he took over his body? He never really found an answer.
It didn’t take him long to realize that he was that novel’s protagonist. Once he came to grips with that, he had set out to live a comfortable life, avoiding the gruelling path the main character in that book had to take over the course of the novel’s events. But, of course, the plot had its way of keeping up with him and he had been eventually cornered and killed by the dark forces that had served as the antagonists of the original story. Just as he breathed his last, he found himself right back where he started, waking up in that ten-year-old body again. That had been two years ago.
He couldn’t remember all the specific details of the plot since it had been so many years, but one especially striking character never left his mind. One of those shadowy figures was a cold and villainous woman who pulled the strings of the weak-willed Prime Minister, using guile and intimidation to amass a personal fortune whilst rubbing shoulders with some of the worst scum in the kingdom.
In the original novel, that particular villain was known as Evelyn von Kreutz.
So, just what the hell was she doing here?
If you hadn’t guessed, this is my own work. I just wanted to do a little writing and this probably won’t get updated very often, so don’t think it’ll get in the way of translating or anything. I also put it on ScribbleHub.