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A Friend

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The Ashkelon Manor was larger than any other manors. In Skenfrith, it was the only manor who remain stood still, it was ancient and many earlier masters of the Ashkelon family had it maintained, preserved as it was first built. Despite of its olden era, the manor house is quite worth living, although most things were indubitably outdated, old-fashioned as it was.

And it has to remain just like that.

The manor house itself is an heirloom passed on through many generations.

The Ashkelons were rich in farm animals and they were selling and exporting the best qualities of horses. There were more grazing fields for cattle and cows, and there were troupes of sheep along the road. All of those were properties of the Ashkelons.

One of the master's lordly businesses was the company built by his great-grandfather, Ashk Dairy Milk Company, as it was early indicated that they're rich in farm animals, specializes at cattle bred.

Conclusively and of course obviously, Earl Stephan being the current master, is a lot busier than the Countess herself. He had to make sure that Ashkelon's properties were clear and good as it was, not to mention he had to attain his own tasks-as one of the country England renowned earls.

Unlike the Countess however, Earl Stephan dislike travelling to places, if he did so—it's urgent, an earl task bid by the Queen, or business matters—he will not stay in that country or place for more than three days. Even three days is too long. If there's one country he would love to travel without any doubt and complaint, well, it would be the country he had been born with. But it was the country despised by his sister, and it was no point to go there and anger the Countess.

The Countess got married when she was sixteen years old, and two years after, the earl inherited his title when he was almost sixteen years old. When the earl was eighteen, their father died in illness, leaving all the responsibilities to the young earl, Stephan.

And now that he's twenty-four years old, he's responsibilities are getting more complicated, not that he's complaining, he's just becoming busier and his life is almost like a rotating sun that never stops from spinning. It was a bit relief that he don't travel that much, or else, he'll worn out in exhaustion.

Stephan was there on his room, sat in a long-armed chair, a table on his right side where a candelabrum lit the murky spacious room and piles of papers were set.

Even at night, the earl still was a busy man, a document on his left hand, reading it silently almost tediously. He thought that, he had to cope up and resolve problems dealing with many things—as soon as possible—or sooner than that so he could have more time for his niece.

At daylight, he couldn't focus and sometimes, he won't work. He didn't want his niece to think he's busy and that she'd conclude she was a burden—she did once already—but, nah, not all.

However, there was really indeed, a time where he couldn't pay attention to her especially when he needed to travel. It was a consolation that Hime has enjoyed her stays even without him, Cain and his household members are quite being nice to her, anyways.

Stephan sighed and then scrubbed his eyes, he needed long rest somehow but shrugged at the thought, he needed still to finish reading the whole document and get rid with it. Tomorrow is another day. Another work.

He was disturbed, in a sudden, by the continuous rapping of the door.

"Sebastian?" he asked for confirmation before getting up on his feet.

"It's Hime, Uncle Stephan. Can I come in?" her voice was low, almost hesitant.

"Hime? Well of course." Stephan answered amiably, surprised by the visitor, and when the small figure clad with a white nightgown ejected from the door, he added,

"What's it you want at this middle of the night, Lil' Hime?"

"Uncle Stephan…"she said, almost a whisper, her eyes were sleepy.

"Yes," he put the paper he was holding back to the table.

"Can I sleep here with you, uncle? I can't sleep in my room because we we're talking about horror stories earlier and it hunted me every time I close my eyes. I'm scared." She curled her hair between her fingers and tucked some of its strands in her mouth.

"Oh my poor niece, come here." He shook his head and gestured at her to come closer; when his niece complied he lifted her and seated her on the king-size bed.

"Did Cain scare you with his stupid horror stories?"

"He didn't. May does, I started it anyway, but believe me I never thought her story telling was so scary." May is one of the household's maid, her parents were servants of the Ashkelons before, too.

"Oh, May? I shall talk to her tomorrow." He said, preparing the bed and helped his niece to lie down comfortably, "You may sleep here as you want,"

Hime nodded adorably, her uncle covered her with a comforter and she pulled it up to her chin, "Are you not sleeping, uncle?"

"Well, I guess I have to now." Stephan smiled, shifting himself beside the girl, he patted her head gently and kissed her forehead. "Goodnight, Hime."

When he pulled back and leaned his back on the headboard, Hime said in query, "Sebastian said you went to the Countess the other day," her tone indicates it's too soon for the goodnight wishes.

Stephan startled at the statement then closed his weary eyes, "Yes,"

"Why did you not tell me, I could have gone with you." she pouted under the comforter.

"Do you miss her that much?" his tone was hoarse.

"I am missing her every day," she answered, then she lifted up to take a sitting position and leaned her chin onto her bended knees, eyes to her uncle, "Do you feel the same, Uncle Stephan? That's why you went to her and travel the whole day?"

"I suppose," he was now staring at the ceiling, he sighed and added, "She's my sister after all, of course I'm still missing her, however, I've been used to it since I was eighteen."

"Used to what?"

"In not seeing her, she got married at sixteen you know." Somehow, his tone sounded sluggish.

"My mother's a meticulous person, and she has a very bad side sometimes, she never smiles and she never laughs. She's beautiful but actually she's like a broken mannequin who doesn't know how to feel, I wonder why my father fell in love with her. But still, I love her and the way she is. Perhaps I'm like my father too, despite of her eerie and sometimes false attitude, I can't help but love her. Don't you think so Uncle Stephan?"

Stephan emitted a concurred smile on his lips, "Yeah, there's no doubt about that."

"Do you think my father and mother love each other?" her tone was quite an alarm.

"They didn't marry if they don't." Stephan retorted, his eyes were somehow on its limits but managed to open them for the sake of his niece, the girl was actually pretty talkative even at bedtimes, just like her mother in the old times.

"But I heard it was a fixed marriage," Stephan's eyes widened, they seemed fully awaken in a sudden. But there was no reason to lie anyway, after all, Hime would know it someday, so he answered, "Yes, that reason, too. It's better that way and besides, they knew each other since childhood, nobles are like this way."

"Is that so, ah." Her mouth formed a wide Ah. Then a weird question and wondering pestered her mind, "Do you love my mother, Uncle Stephan?"

"As much as I love myself," he blunted.

"Then why didn't you marry her?" was her follow-up question, and Stephan was stunned by it but had managed to control his shock right after, and then, he laughed.

"M-marry?" Stephan's baffled eyes were now directed to hers, he elicited a tedious laugh before he says, "Why would we marry each other? There's no such marriage between siblings Hime, and why we would, the Countess and I are siblings."

"But why, my mother and father are relatives too. Why it was not possible for you to marry her, but my father can?" seriously, Hime now was bewildered.

"Gir," he pauses, "is our cousin. In order to preserve each of our families noble blood, and to make certain our heritages won't be handed to someone else who's not a member of the family circle, nobles do intermarrying. Cousins can, or allowed to marry, but siblings is a one big different." Stephan explained, and seriously, he's starting to sweat for this kind of interrogation—if you may call it that way.

When Hime wore a confuse face, he added, "There's a big difference between marrying a cousin from a brother or sister, Hime. And that difference is as wide as the universe. Some people may call it, a taboo."

"Does it mean, when you aren't a brother of the Countess, then you would likely to marry her?" she enquired, does she even know what's she's saying, and trying to imply? Stephan thought.

However, the question somehow had injected an odd feeling inside him, stirring once again and summoning up the fragmented memories of his past, past discarded life, childhood to be précised.

"Well, if that's possible, why would I not." There was a heavy breathe on his chest, "I mean, of course I would. My sister is lovely; she has everything I am seeking for a woman."

"Except for her heartless and stern attitude," Hime suggested, chuckling, and her uncle on the other side of his smile a grin was seen, both had shrugged their shoulders at the same time, and their mouths both started,

"But I love her that way!" the two were both laughing at their own words and assertion.

When they regained their selves, Stephan was the one who capitulated and patted Hime's head, "My, you have ruined my stomach. Enough for the chitchat Hime, you better go to sleep now."

"Yes, uncle." She said but a pout on her lips, when her uncle fixed her ruffled comforter, she buried her face under it and said but almost a whisper, "You know what Uncle Stephan," she pauses, "somehow I feels like I would love it, if you were my father."

Stephan stupefied at the testimonial, and then a cheerless smile was attached on his lips. He drew a heavy breathe before he retorted a simple, tender, "Me too."

He caressed her hair and whispered 'Goodnight.'

***

She knew there was something that's been odd around, her conscious was absolutely awake and her mind was starting to calculate but her eyes won't widely open, she felt terribly sleepy. She heard a cold voice muttering something that's been familiar to her but she had decided to ignore it, instead, she went back on concentrating to sleep.

When a warm gleam of light touch her cheeks and disturb her slumber, she startled and raised her hand to rubbed her sleepy eyes, opening them only to see a chestnut head stood at the gigantic window, opening the red curtains. She raised a brow upon familiarizing the arrogant figure.

"I thought you aren't going to wake up," Cain spoke as he opened the last thick curtain and turned to walk towards the bed, his eyes were almost blank but despite that he could mock as if he meant it, "I almost believe you're lifeless there. Now I think I must celebrate, with confetti perhaps. "

"You should have at least greeted me first." her tone was irksome, "I notice you're quite talkative every morning, and why are you here? And is that how you suppose to behave in front of me early in this very hour?" Hime knew her morning was somehow ruined.

He was now at the edge of the bed, standing firmly and placed his right hand on his chest as he bowed a little, his bangs almost covered his eyes.

"Oh, forgive me for my ill-mannered behavior; I was kind uh, carried away." He pardoned and bowed more, just then he slowly straightened and stared back at Hime, with his unusual cold eyes of his,

"Allow me please to present my warmest greetings," his tone stunned the lady for the first time, it was said with a bit of sincerity.

He went closer to her side at the bed, kneeled his right knee and held her pallid hands, enclosing it to his before he gently kissed the back of her palm, as he said. "Good morning, Hime."

The lady knew her cheeks warmed and in a very strange reason the beat of her heart became uneven, the way Cain said it was very unusual from his daily tone, it was something that was filled with emotion, though it was only a little out of it. But at least Cain indeed has emotions, it doesn't matter how big or little.

Embarrassed by the sudden gentle behavior of her so-called unemotional alien poker-faced that was Cain, Hime swiftly pulled back her hands and turned her sight downright, her voice was chilly when she said, "You don't have to do that anyway,"

"I thought you'd like it," as she expected, his tone now was brought back to normal; his voice being cold was a normal way for Cain.

Hime concluded. "And why would I? You're so proud of yourself, only those who are close to me can touch my hand, do you even know that?"

"I'm your friend, so I'm closer enough not only to touch your—wait, what's that, ahh delicate pallid hands—and I even kissed it." Cain stood up, although he was just annoying her it appeared to be that he was more annoyed than her. "Besides, I've touched your hands more than a hundred times already."

"Okay, no need to get so annoyed early in the morning Cain, I'm just kidding, come on please smile for me." she chuckled. She sounded satisfied.

"I can see no reason for smiling; by the way, I'm here just to wake you up. Your breakfast is being served at the dining room." He said gaining back his usual composure.

"Oh," she prolonged and fixed herself, "is Uncle Stephan already there?"

"He left already, said he was terribly sorry he can't say goodbye to you. The Earl's been horribly busy this week, if I may right he had received a letter from the Queen." He informed, offering his hands to Hime and help her to stand up straight more confidently.

"He left to where? When is he coming back, did he tell you?" she asked with concern.

"Essentially I'm not a butler that must know everything the Earl does, its better you ask Sebastian." He now walked towards the door and opened it for Hime who had followed him tentatively.

"You knew everything; you just don't feel like saying it to me. Hmp." She pouted as she exited the door, stomping her feet and went right towards the direction of her own room, she need to dress herself appropriately before going downstairs and not this nightdress she's still wearing.

"I'll send maids in your room!" he said as he followed her with his eyes, almost a shout.

"No need! I can manage!" she yelled back, pissed and, spoiled as she was.

"Well, let's see." He murmured.

***

"What happened to your dress, Young Lady?"

Sebastian enquired with a lot of bundles of concern attached on his wrinkled face. He stood there at the top edge of the long dining table with the maids lining up at his behind; he scowled when he saw the lady and her ruffled dress, and with her unpleasant look.

She wore a fuchsia gown and the ribbon on her neck was tied wrongly, her white gloves were worn as if she's in a hurry—the glove on her right hand was worn till her elbow, and the other was half undone. Her golden hair was ruffled and the bangs almost covered her left eye, even the pink lace on her hair was not tied a ribbon at all.

Her shoes were not a pair and the laces were not tied.

"Nothing." She answered and took her seat at the top center, Cain who sat at the bottom center was unfathomable as always, though she knew he was laughing—certainly—deep inside.

Cain was just the type of person who can manage and hide his emotions in a pluperfect way. Sometimes she thought, was her mother the mentor of Cain on how to behave this way? They're almost similar in a few ways.

Cain ogled her dubiously; Hime frowned and started, "What?"

"You look nice, so decent." Cain commented and the maids behind them widened their eyes, the butler even was surprised.

The butler was fuming inside; his mind was full of thoughts that he would throw in the river with full of crocodiles the maid who had dressed the Young Lady. Whoever she shall be, she must be punished for not dressing the lady properly.

"Of course, I'm the one who dressed myself." She answered, a bit with proud.

Sebastian and the maids made an Oh sound behind their throat, all were dumbfounded and were all wearing a shocked face. This is the first time that the lady dress herself without having the maids to assist her. Despite of her ruffled appearance, they were proud. And it was a relief that Cain complimented the Lady's self-dressed attire before they did, surely, Cain knows how to handle things.

"You've done well, Young Lady." Sebastian smiled, withdrawing back the words he'd said earlier about throwing and punishing. But still, he has to punish all the maids for not assisting the lady on her dressing period.

"Of course, thank you Sebastian." She answered cheerfully, glancing at once at Cain on the other side, smirking. "Shall we eat?"

"Of course." Cain retorted.

An hour later after the breakfast, Hime was found in her room messing the linoleum with packs of gowns and casual dresses, she searched the entire wardrobe and threw everything that was not appropriate for her taste this day.

She was looking for something that would fit her 'normal girl' manifestation. Her bed was covered with robes, nightdresses and gowns, and she pouted when she found nothing but elegant dresses. When Cain knocked and entered the room, his face became excessively horrified.

"What kind of inanity is this happening in your room?" Cain palmed his forehead, tiptoeing as he stepped toward Hime, avoiding every single dress he might step on with his feet.

"A bizarre hurricane came." Hime answered mockingly, throwing the last gown her wardrobe had.

"What are you doing, Hime? Seriously! This isn't how a lady should behave." His tone was higher this time and started picking up the gowns on the floor.

"I behave whatever I wish."

"I castigate whatever I find isn't normal," he hissed, putting back the gowns he'd pick inside the wardrobe.

"You're not my tutor Cain, you're my friend and stay the way it is." she purse her lips, and then her eyes brighten up, clutching the crease of Cain's black shirt, "Perhaps you can help me instead of sulking there, please?"

Cain just stared at her, then she pouted and her eyes almost teary, begging and drawing a puppy eyes, in which he find it creepy.

"What's up to you this time?" he capitulated as he grabbed her hand, pulling her upward.

"I need clothes." She grinned.

"God, Hime. You have a roomful of clothes, what else are you looking for?" he hissed, fury eyes staring down at Hime whose height was just a level to his chest.

"I need dress that's normal." She close-opened her palms, and Cain wondered for what reason it was for.

"What? Did worms eat your brain?" Cain dropped down his shoulders.

"You don't understand me at all. I want clothes that would make me look a normal girl. Such as, a farmer's daughter." She elaborated, staring up to him with eyes filled with impatience.

"I deem I know what kind of viruses assaulted your brain," Cain shook his head, he sighed and stared at her poorly, "Zany virus. And your intelligence that is below average is being dominated by the urge of your desperation."

"Just help me find clothes; I don't understand any of your words anyway." Hime is now glaring at him, and then she added, "I notice Cain, you're becoming talkative nowadays. Did worms finish eating your tongue?"

Stares. Puppy eyes. Cuteness. It irritates him, and then he sighs.

"Got it, let's see what I can do." He succumbed, dragging her out of the messed room. The spoiled lady did smirk.

"Whatever it is you're planning to do Hime, I'm on it, as long as it doesn't occur to be a disaster. And as long as it won't get to the Countess." He said as they walked.

"That's why I love you, Cain." She blunted and Cain halted for a while, partly stunned at the avowal, and partly because he was not expecting such a compliment. But Cain doesn't need compliments, if it is one, that is.

"How sad, I'm not doing this because I love you; I'm doing this because I have to." He answered and his tone was back to cold, it wasn't cold, it was said without passion.

"But someday you will," Hime said with assurance, she held his hand tight and added, "we're friends remember?"

Cain stunned, stared back at her with a false smile on his lips, "We are, of course."

They walked through many doors and passed through many narrow corridors in which Hime have not yet seen nor entered ever since she came in his Uncle's manor. She was surprised that the manor house was bigger than she'd thought.

"I never knew there's something like this here, there are lot of doors. How did you know this part of the mansion, Cain?" she asked in amusement, her right hand was enclosed with Cain's left.

"It's in the mansion's map." Was his honest answer.

"Oh, really. Are you certain we won't be lost?" she asked again, turning her looks left to right.

"I brought the map with me." he answered and Hime nodded her head for relief.

"Cain, it's becoming dark here. Are you sure there aren't any monsters here?" she asked again, this time she sounded scared, she embraced his entire arm as she looked very anxious.

"They do not exist, Hime." He reassured, and he's being annoyed somehow.

"What about ghosts?"

"They're unreal."

"Do you have candles; I think we should light some." Her voice was trembling; somehow she didn't like the ambience.

"I'm actually holding a candelabrum, Hime." He swayed his right hand that's holding the candelabrum.

"Do you think we're walking too far now?"

"Oh stop it, Hime. You're asking too many questions, if you have hesitations and you aren't confident with me, then you shouldn't have asked for my help in the first place." He blurted out.

"I'm sorry, I'm just feeling creepy." She apologized,

"You don't have to be scared if you're with me, just hold my arm as tight as you can, perhaps it might lessen your exaggeration."

"But I am holding it now," she informed, just then she halted in a sudden that it almost stumble Cain when they passed an empty door-like shaped at their left. Hime stared down and realized it was a stair going down. The darkness creeps her out, but she had manage to asks out of curiosity,

"What's at the end of that stair, Cain?" she points her forefinger at the stair downwards.

When the lady would stop asking interminable senseless questions? Cain thought.

"Who knows? But I am certain it's forbidden there, I went down once and saw a door at the end, it has silver plaque that reads, 'Ashkelons'. I'm not Ashkelon so I don't give a waste of time to enter the room," he said and started to continue walking, dragging Hime on his other hand.

"Can I go there, too?"

"Are you an Ashkelon?" his brown went up, but as always, he had managed to control his voice and said it with nothing but hollowness.

"But of course! I came from the Ashkelon family," she reminded.

"I mean to say, is the family name you're carrying an Ashkelon?"

"Mortfield's." she says in a low tone.

"Then there's no reason you're allowed to enter there, Sebastian told me once it's a private room for the Ashkelons. EXCLUSIVE. Respect that privacy as part of the noble's dignity." He said as he halted in front of an old door, "We're here."

"Since when Sebastian and Cain had talked to each other?" her tone and the way she talks were now glued inside Cain's philosophic brain.

"Since the Earl left to elsewhere planet," he answered, rolling his eyes as he opened the door.

They entered and Hime found the room quite impressive despite of its old-fashioned furniture and materials—well, everything in Ashkelon is old-fashioned—and though the passages outside were murky, here inside the room it was bright and full of hanged candelabras. On the corner was a bed.

"I'm quite impress on this room, it's a waste no one's occupying it, don't you think Cain?" she seeks for approval, toddling on the linoleum back and forth, surveying the whole dirty white room.

"I am occupying it," he informed and Hime was surprised. "This is my room here in Ashkelon, no jokes."

"Really! I'm surprised; I thought you're next to my room." She exclaimed, making a clap sound before she sat on the bed. "Why would you occupy a room far from the main floor? Don't you think its tiresome walking here and there?"

"It's the only room I find comfortable with," he opened his cabinet at the corner and searched for something inside, "Let me see what I have here,"

"Just anything that would make me look like a beggar."

"You're out of your mind, seriously." He commented, pulling something from the cabinet.

"But I'm serious; I want to look like one." She pouted again.

"I thought you want normal clothes for an ordinary girl, uh since I'm a boy, there's no way you can dress up like a girl. And would you please stop pouting? It's getting on my nerves."

"Just anything Cain." She said.

"Uh, here. How bad, this must be so big for you. I'm taller than you and of course, but since this is your stupid request then you can't do nothing but accept what's available." He pulled a white tattered sleeve, a black scruffy vest with white colored pleats, a baggy black short with a crimson hemline, and a pair of red boots with black socks. He handed it to Hime who sat perplexed on the bed and threw the boots over it.

"These are for boys, Cain." She raised her hands holding up the sleeve.

"You're asking from a boy, don't expect anything so girlish. And if I may right, you say you'll wear anything." He crossed his arms and stared down at her.

Hime wore a confuse look after inspecting the entire clothes, it was tattered and was old and so poor to wear, "I can't imagine why you have this kind of clothes, I mean, why all tattered? Are you even wearing this poor thing?"

"I often uses it for disguises," he answered in a blunt way, then he stunned, he can't believe he was telling this to her.

"Disguises? Really, but for what?" her eyes widened in interest, probing.

"I find no reason for telling reasons to you, just get it and we'll out from here." He curved to grab the short and the boots on the bed.

"I just want to know,"

"I use it when I'm in town, just covering up my identity," he capitulated and sighed, Hime's becoming a nag that he couldn't resist, then he added without even looking at her, "perhaps you forget I'm one of the Countess' spies. Or perhaps in your perspective, I'm a puppet. Got it?"

"Sometimes you're nice to me, sometimes you're not. Sometimes I do understand you, Cain, and sometimes I don't." She gawked at him.

"You wouldn't, of course." He sighed, after all his words the lady didn't get it, he stood up and pushed the garments on her chest, "Now, are you still interested in these clothes, or not?" Hime grabbed the clothes and nod.

"I'll go out so you can change clothes here."

"Promise me you wouldn't leave me behind," she held the clothes tighter.

"When did I ever leave you behind? You're becoming so insensitive." He walked towards the door and glanced at her before he'd exited. He waited two minutes just leaning on the doorpost, just then Hime spoke behind the door,

"Cain, you're still there, aren't you?"

"Of course I am. Just hurry up." He hissed.

A moment later, the door opened from inside and ejected a new look of Hime. Cain ogled her from head to toe and as he had expected, the baggy shorts was so loose for her, although the sleeve almost fit her and the vest added some charm. The red boots was above her knee and the socks were folded up to her legs, but the collar of her sleeve was messed up and the buttons were not properly buttoned.

And what's that, he just noticed the sleeve was being worn reversely. The belt she was holding was hanging onto the floor, clanking it.

"I don't know if I'm wearing this right," she started, she waggled the belt up to him, "And how am I suppose to wear this, where shall I put it?"

"Ugh, come inside, I'm totally going to remake what you did." He said as he dropped down his shoulders, grabbing her hand that held the belt.

***

Cain lend her a black cap too and tuck her long hair in, she was, indubitably look like a normal poor lad. When they went back to the main floor the maids were frantic and in hysterical, even Sebastian was almost passing out, and when Cain enquired what's happening, they answered the Young Lady was missing.

"The lady Sebastian? You don't have to worry; she was playing in the grassland with Marta." Cain informed, Hime was clutching on his shirt at his back, bowing her head so Sebastian wouldn't see her face.

"And you left the Lady there? You little warlock!" Sebastian hissed, his hands rested on his hips.

"No. The Lady ordered me to bring this; she left it in her room." He raised a hand that held a white umbrella.

Sebastian sighed for relief, and he'd notice the kid behind Cain who seemed clutching him like a stray cat. "Who's this kid behind you?"

"My friend." He answered, just then he held her hands and started walking forward, "We're going now, Sebastian." Cain was thankful that the butler took his alibi.

"Don't take the Lady too long; bring her home before My Lord arrives." Cain just raised his right hand for understanding.

"Tell me exactly Hime, why do you want to dress up like that?" he asked, they're now outside the manor, tracing the narrow road that would lead them to the grassland, it would take them minutes to go there, by the way. It's a little bit far from the manor, sort of.

"Because I want Marta and Jim to feel like I'm one of them, normal kids." She answered, taking a walk and a hop one at a time.

"Besides your nonsensical mind set often times, you are absolutely plain but normal." He retorted,

"But I feel like sometimes they do not feel comfortable around me," she put her hands at her back.

"Of course they wouldn't, they knew you're a noble. And did I tell you before? Mostly kids like them despise nobles—for many reasons. They envy you, such as."

"You're thinking too much," she wore a sour face.

"Did not. I'm just saying the truth,"

Minutes passed and they had reached the grassland area, Hime was excited when she spotted Marta and Jim, sat on the grassland a few distances, their back facing Cain and Hime. She run off towards them and Cain tentatively went after, just then she halted when the two didn't notice her presence just a meter from them—they we're talking.

Hime stood still.

"I don't really like her,"

"She's pretty and bright, plus she's a noble. You were so happy when you're with her, that's why I thought you like her." Jim said.

"Like? I was fascinated at her at first sight, but I don't like her and the way she talks. She's so proud and arrogant just because she's a noble, sometimes I thought she's just pretending nice though actually—she hates us, too." She blunted, not even noticing that Hime was on their back.

"But I like her, she's cheerful. But somehow, you're right. I hate nobles, too." Jim seconded.

"Nobles are arrogant. They think too little on us, Hime's like that and I'm certain she's laughing on us. I hate her so much."

Hate her so much. She heard it and she stunned, stupefied to where she was standing, the revelation pained her too much that she didn't notice the tears on her cheeks, her hands were clenching. Marta and Jim, hate her.

"I'm only nice to her because she brings gifts to us, and toys. And also, mama said I must befriend a noble's daughter so in the future they can help me find job. And because I like her brother, Cain—but not much, he's more arrogant than Hime. He's too quite and he only talks to his sister, that's why I hate Hime more."

"Nah, I hate Cain." Jim said sluggishly. "Whenever I came closer to Hime, he's there to block my way and it seems he doesn't want me to talk to her, he's selfish."

It was too much for Hime, too much to hear any more, and there was Cain on her side—fisting his hands as his eyes narrowed in ire. He wanted to confront them and teach them a lesson for saying harsh and rude words against a noble, he really wanted, but it might hurt Hime's feelings even more. Instead, he grabbed her hands and took her away from the stabbing words of Hime's so-called, stupid friends. They ran off hearing Hime's heavy sobs.

This was what he was always saying. People like them would only cause pain and rejection for Hime. The Countess was right.

"Where's my niece?"

Earl Stephan enquired as he step in inside the entranceway, it was six in the evening and he'd just came from the town, and every time he arrives Hime's always there at the entrance door—waiting for him and to welcome him home. But today's quite odd; his niece didn't greet him at the entrance—no hugs, no kisses, no smiles, no presence nor shadows of Hime.

"The Young Lady is in her room, My Lord." Sebastian answered as he took the earl's cloak.

"This early? Is she sick?" Earl Stephan asked in concern, proceeding to the anteroom.

"I'm afraid to say this, but she isn't feeling well My Lord. When the Lady and Cain came back from the grassland, she started behaving strangely. She didn't even eat her dessert this afternoon," he followed the earl.

"Where's Cain then?" his brows went up.

"He's currently at her room; do you wish me to call him, My Lord?"

"No, I'm going there anyway." He said with finality and went up towards the staircase, Sebastian following him at his behind. The earl was surprised when he saw Cain standing at the doorpost, his back leaning against it. He step nearer and meet Cain's cold stares.

"Why are you here? Aren't you supposed inside her room?" the earl asked, directing his gaze on the boy.

"Hime send me out, Young Master." He answered stonily, matching the earl's cold stares.

"Then you shouldn't be standing outside her room, it's unsightly." He said as he grabbed for the golden knob,

"I'll wait here until she comes out," he said firmly, and then added when the earl started to twist the knob, "I'm afraid to say this but you couldn't enter inside, Young Master. She'd locked it inside and she'd got the house keys along with her,"

The earl went closer to Cain and lowered down to grab his collar; Sebastian was alarmed behind them, "What exactly has happened to Hime? Do you have anything to do with this?"

"I'm Hime's friend. How can I hurt her, if that's what you are trying to imply here, Young Master?" his eyes were cold, in which irritates the earl most. When the earl couldn't response, Cain added, "Can you please unhand me now, my conscience is clear.'

Earl Stephan loose his grasp and step aback, he sighed and asked for once again, this time, in a neutral tone, "What happened to her?"

"She's not hurting anywhere; she just needs space and time alone. I hope you do understand, Hime has some sorts of privacy after all, I'm pleading you to leave her alone tonight, as her Uncle please do understand."

"You are a 'nobody' to dictate my actions. This will be the last time you're to intrude with my relationship towards my niece; I'll send you back to the Countess the next time around." The earl stated potently.

"If that's what you wish, Young Master." Cain bowed politely, but a poignant mien was on his face, for what reason it was for, no one could determine.

The next morning, everything went back to normal. Earl Stephan and Cain casually greeted each other every time they encounter inside the mansion, and Hime went back to her usual, cheerful self. The earl went to her early in the morning and they had talked to each other about the incident yesterday, but Hime did just answer she was having a bad headache. However, the earl knew there's something more, but he'd never ask the girl for he respected her decision to keep it a secret. Just like what Cain said, Hime after all, even as a child has some sorts of privacy.

After lunchtime, the earl decided he would take Hime in town. This week he had been very busy and had no time for her at all, and because he felt guilty for that, he'd have to cope up for his absence and kill some time with his niece—shopping, strolling in town, eat in restaurants, play and have some fun. Hime was extremely happy about it.

Sebastian drove them in carriage, and of course, Cain was along with them. Even he'd to disapprove, Hime wouldn't want Cain to be left, and moreover, Cain would likely to follow them using another carriage anyway. So in the end, he'd decided to take him along, and that's how Cain became a pain to the Earl's eyesight.

The Earl didn't hate Cain but somehow the boy's existence had put an immense mystery for him, Cain was the only byzantine puzzle he couldn't solve. But he had thought about it, and decided that some other day, he would hire an investigator to do some background check for Cain Castor Lackland. He even doubt if it was his real name. He didn't doubt the Countess not even her intentions about giving the boy to Hime, but what bothers him was that—Cain's giving him an unnerving aura; it might be that he's actually aiming for something in which the Countess doesn't even know.

There must be something about Cain. And he'll have to find out.

They shopped and bought everything the lady has desired and they went strolling alongside the streets, ignoring the concentrated looks of the people around. Hime stood gallantly beside her uncle as they walked along the town streets, Cain was behind them just following without any intentions of speaking any, and Sebastian was left in the carriage together with the stuffs they'd bought.

"Jim, its Hime and Cain, look there!" Marta exclaimed towards Jim, pointing at the nobles' direction that happened to be walking not far from they were standing.

"Alright, it's them. And that's Earl Stephan right? Nice timing Marta, let's go!" Jim seconded, pulling Marta.

"Hime!" they shouted and everyone around look scornfully at them, despising the sudden blatant and impolite way of addressing a noble. When Hime didn't look back, or perhaps she didn't hear them, the two hurried towards them and panted as they call her, "Hime, it's good to see you here!"

It was the earl who'd stop from the pace and turned his back, only to see two strange ragged kids, smiling as they faced Hime. The earl just wore a confound look as he turned his gaze at his niece beside him, pleading for some explanations. Hime wore a sour and disgusted face and when Marta and Jim stepped forward closer to the lady, Cain broke in and blocked their way.

"What's wrong with you, Cain? It's me, Jim." He insisted to push himself nearer to Hime.

"It's me, Marta!" the girl hissed.

"Do you know these persons, Hime?" her uncle asked, tilting his head below to seek for his niece's facial expression, if there's any.

"I don't know them, Uncle Stephan." The lady answered and her tone was cold, her eyes were staring at the two kids irately.

"What are you talking, Hime. Don't you recognize us?" Marta asked.

"Sorry, I don't talk to strangers." Hime said with finality and grabbed her Uncle's hand, "Let's go, Uncle." The earl just nodded and started to continue their walk, leaving the two kids who wore a shocked, terrified face.

Cain placed a hand on his chest and bowed politely at the two embarrassed kids, a grin on his lips as he straightened up and said, "May peace be with you," he said in his usual unemotional voice.

And before he'd turned to follow the nobles, Cain added, "AH, I must correct a deceiving mistake, I'm not Hime's brother." He smiled falsely, "We're friends."

His smile somehow gave spooky feelings at the two, and then Cain continued as he stood arrogantly, and his false smile was replaced with creepy and threatening stabbing glares, "I demand that you two stop approaching the Young Lady, but regardless of that, no one else can approach her while I'm around."

"Y-you're obnoxious!" they screamed and ran off frightfully.

"Cain!" Hime called out,

"I'm coming, Hime!" he answered and hurried towards them who were now ahead.

"Don't you really know those kids, Hime? They knew your name." The earl enquired, waiting for Cain who'd they almost left behind.

"I tell you Uncle, don't have any idea." She wore a false pout.

"Well, I just thought they're your friends." The earl shrugged.

"Friends? I only have one friend, Uncle Stephan. I don't have any rather than this one," she said sincerely, and smiled when Cain caught them up.

"Forgive me for my delayed walks, Hime." Cain panted slightly, and then he bowed. Hime went closer to him and circled her hands around Cain's arm, "My only friend is right here beside me,"

The earl sighed but he smiled anyway,

"Cain." She continued with a smile.

…at least his niece was grateful she had Cain.