The Devoted Fanatic III
A night she had experienced in her previous life.
The Maria she used to be called out anxiously as she rubbed her younger sister’s back, who was coughing and spluttering awfully.
“Nina, are you okay? Nina…? Nina!”
Nina had been running a fever all evening and it looked painful for her just to even breathe. She had been coughing and retching for a little while now and it looked like her fever was getting worse.
“Just wait a moment, okay? I’ll go and get you some water…”
If she could wash down her medicine with water, it would stop the coughing at least for a little while. Maria rushed into the kitchen and begged the maids for help.
“I’m sorry, but could I please have a pitcher for water…!?”
But, they didn’t say anything, they just kept busily moving around the kitchen.
“Ahh, if it isn’t Lady Maria. I’m deeply sorry, but there’s a banquet in the hall tonight, so none of us have any time to spare. Can you wait a little while, please?”
Yet, however polite the maids seemed to be to her face, the real story was entirely different. They didn’t seem to be working all that hard at all, in fact, some of them stopped to whisper to each other and giggle in Maria’s direction.
But, if they technically had an important job to do, she couldn’t just get in their way.
“…I will do it myself. I’m sorry for bothering you.”
“That won’t do, my lady!”
Just as she was about to reach towards the cupboard, a sharp voice pierced through her.
“Do you intend to have Lady Nina drink from that pitcher?”
“Yes, that’s right. She’s having a coughing fit and is in pain. I need to have her take her medicine before she starts coughing blood…”
“Then, if that’s the case…”
The maid that stood looking down at her snorted derisively through her nose with a disdainful glare. That maid’s name was Karina, an experienced and senior maid in the house.
“It would cause a lot of problems if Lady Nina was just given any dishes to use. I was told specifically by the Madame that she should only be able to use the ones specially set aside for her, lest she spread her disease to the rest of the family.”
“And I do so deeply apologize, but Lady Nina’s pitcher hasn’t been washed yet. And I can hardly wash something tainted by a disease with the other dishes, so please do forgive me.”
The snickering laughter of the other maids echoed in the kitchen. They all looked and giggled at Maria, who stood shell-shocked.
“Look at her, trembling like that… Oh, I wonder if she’s scared of us as well?”
“Even if they’re both supposed to be young ladies, there’s such a difference between her and Lady Lilith. Just looking at Lady Maria is irritating, honestly.”
“Well, that’s because she’s some whore’s daughter, right? It’s only natural. The Madame often says she doesn’t really believe that those two are actually the Master’s children.”
“I think the same way she does. Even though they’re just the same as us, they’re playing at being nobles just because their mother happened to get lucky and snare the right man, it honestly makes you sick, doesn’t it?”
She was on the verge of tears, but she couldn’t afford to simply skulk away with nothing.
That previous life’s Maria, despite being a weak girl, grasped her fists and raised her voice.
“I will wash Nina’s pitcher myself.”
“Haa… Listen, Lady Maria…”
Karina shook her head in disgusted exasperation.
“Even if you are the daughter of some base mistress, it would besmirch the honourable name of the Wenschlee family if we were to let a Lady do such a thing. For us, who are loyal to the House of Wenschlee, we cannot let you do such a thing.”
“Please, please just let me have some water! Otherwise, Nina will…!”
“Lady Maria, take this one!”
It was then that the previous Maria heard a voice that reached out to help her for the first time in a very long while.
“I washed the jug quickly just now. Please take this one straight away!”
“Huh, what do you think you’re doing, Sherry!?”
Karina yelled at the maid, who looked to be a few years younger than her.
“You’re just a new hire, how dare you move away from your station without permission!? Because of your selfishness, all the work will be backed up!!”
“I’m very sorry, Miss Karina. I’m getting straight back to work now!”
The maid who quickly handed the jug over to Maria shot her a little wink on the side. At that moment, her heart was full of a joyful feeling that she couldn’t recall the last time she felt.
“Thank you. I will definitely pay you back for this later, anyway I can.”
“Don’t worry about it. Take care now, Lady Maria.”
As the maid smiled at her, Maria blushed deeply. Making sure not to spill a drop of water from the pitcher, she carefully returned to Nina’s room.
As she did, she felt feelings she could scarcely think possible just a little while ago.
(There really is a person who will help me here!)
Even if it was such a small thing, just how happy was she that someone had helped her get some water when no one else would lift a finger for her?
(I have to get Nina to take her medicine right away. Then, I’ll have to thank her properly. I have to do whatever I can to thank her… She really made me happy…!)
For some time after, that maid would take whatever opportunities she could to help Maria and Nina.
“Lady Maria, Lady Nina. Please open the door, I brought some food…”
It was midnight.
When everyone else in the house was asleep, Maria slowly raised her face from her pillow as she heard a gentle knocking at the door.
“Sherry? No way, did you swipe in front of everyone again…!?”
“Fufu. It’s nothing much, you know. You’re hungry, right? Please enjoy the food.”
The young maid gave them soup and a load of bread. Due to a ‘mistake’ by the maids, there hadn’t been any dinner made for Maria or Nina that night, so the modest food in front of them looked more delicious than any delicacy could.
“Thank you. Nina was so hungry that she couldn’t sleep well.”
“Please eat your fill… Miss Karina really is awful, though. It’s a maid’s job to take care of everyone staying in the house, but she still does such awful things along with Lady Lilith…”
“It’s okay. It would be smart never to defy Lilith in this house. If you get found out, you would really get in trouble. I really appreciate what you’re doing, but you should be careful too…”
“Don’t worry about me, Lady Maria.”
The maid laughed, but her voice was gentle and kind.
“Not all the servants are your enemies, Lady Maria. Just like me, there are other people who want to help you. There’s not much we can do out in the open, but still…”
“Thank you… Sherry.”
Maria was truly happy for the first time since entering that house.
She had thought that she and Nina were all alone, but just having one person reach out to them like this was enough to bring some light back into their lives.
Just having someone to smile and laugh with, as small as it may seem, warmed her heart.
But, relying too deeply on that happiness was a dire mistake. When Maria thanked her before, she should have resolutely turned down any further help.
That would have been a happy, if a little bittersweet ending to their story. Considering their circumstances, she should have never had reached out to anyone as a ‘friend’.
Because, that day, she didn’t even notice that Sherry bumped into a certain person after leaving their room.
“Sherry? You… What are you doing?”
When Maria learned about what happened, it was already far too late.
Sherry suffered a bout of severe anxiety and depression from the harassment she started to receive from the other maids, and quit her job. The engagement she had with her fiancée was canceled due to her mental illness, and she never saw her again.
“Umm… Your Highness Maria…?”
Hearing a little knock at the door, Princess Maria raised her head.
It was a small and discreet sound. If she were asleep, she may not have noticed it at all. Closing the book in her hands, Maria stood up to open the door.
“I-I’m sorry for bothering you so late at night. I wanted to properly talk to you during the day, but I had so much work I didn’t even have time to take a break…”
It was a maid who looked slightly younger than herself.
In fact, it was the girl who confronted Karina during the day. If she remembered correctly, the other maids called her Ann?
“I realize how rude and presumptuous I’m being for coming to your room like this, Princess, but I had to thank you properly. Um, for what you did for me, thank you very much!!”
“Yes. You helped me when the head maid was about to fire me, right?”
After a moment, she realized what the girl meant.
Back during the day, when she had gone to seek out the head maid for a certain reason, she happened to overhear an argument. There was something she needed to do, so she had called out in a way that interrupted Karina.
That must have been it.
“I really did not do all that much to help. After all, I truly did have a task for Karina.”
“But… Still, it made me happy. At that time, I was really scared, so…”
It seemed like she was still nervous, though this time it was because of being in the presence of a Princess. Listening to her trembling voice, Maria slowly blinked.
“But, I felt like I had to say something, because someone is going to end up getting hurt if we’re overworked like this… So, when Your Highness Maria helped me like that, I was really happy…”
It had only been such a small and trifling thing she had done, not even intending to help.
That’s all it had been. But, because of Anne’s words, Maria remembered.
Even if the one giving help might think of it as some trivial thing, it might mean the world to the one being saved.
“You don’t have to thank me.”
She gazed into the girls eyes, speaking clearly.
“In fact, if anything, I should apologize to you instead.”
Then, she whispered to Ann in a cold and steely voice, the type of voice she would never let her grandmother or Karina hear.
“Truly, I am very sorry.”