"Lady Victoria, we've arrived."
Victoria shifted in the carriage before she opened her eyes and rubbed the sleep from them. The past few days went by with minimal conversation and countless nightmares whenever the young woman shut her eyes. It was only now that she was able to rest without anything infiltrating her mind, but it seemed like fate was playing a cruel game with her and it would only be a matter of time before hellish visions overwhelmed her unconscious state.
Sunlight poured into the carriage the moment the driver opened the door and one of the footmen offered the merchant's daughter a gloved hand. The young woman blinked a few times to adjust her eyes to the brightness before she remembered that she had slipped the envelope Dimitri gave her into one of her dress's folds and fixed it. The footman paid no need to the action as he felt Victoria take his hand and she stepped out of the carriage, immediately shivering.
The first thing the maiden noticed was the change in weather; it was much cooler than the estate she was familiar with and an occasional gust would make her shiver. The air was also drier compared to the more southern regions of the mainland and she doubted that many thunderstorms happened here. Victoria made a mental note that if she was to spend a great deal of time outdoors, she would need to wear warmer clothes. For now, the merchant's daughter would have to endure the cold until she was inside of the estate, which made her analyze all of her surroundings.
The small tendril of hope that Victoria felt of ever leaving this place dwindled down to almost nothingness and was replaced with that dreadful feeling she hated. The mansion itself was four stories tall and nearly double the width of her father's home, the bricks set firm between intricate metal work and stone pillars. Though there were a few balconies, each one had two armed soldiers standing on either side of the doors and they looked like the sort who would never avert from their duties. Surrounding the estate were a few gardens, some that had beautiful flora that Victoria did not recognize while others had imposing trees and shrubs that were triple her height.
What made the whole estate seem inescapable was the foreboding walls and gates that Victoria did not notice as the carriage rode into the main vicinity. In total there were three barriers in total, all of them serving a purpose of keeping whoever inside of the estate safe and whoever outside out. The outermost wall was made of stone and easily stood over ten feet tall with a watch tower every hundred feet apart. The central was a brick wall that stood a few feet shorter with iron spikes aligning the top. The last was an iron fence that stood the same height as the brick wall with only one double door gate that entered into the estate.
"Do you enjoy the view, Lady Victoria?" a voice chimed.
Victoria whirled around to the entrance of the estate and noticed that on the top of the double stairwell balcony was Lord Jasper. Unlike when he visited her father earlier in the week, the pale man adorned a simpler outfit that consisted of a long sleeved gray frilled blouse, black trousers and a long navy robe with gold trim and cuffs. The man bore a stern expression as he took a puff from his pipe then blew a trail of smoke from his lips.
A frown pulled on the young woman's lips as she kept her gaze on the deathly looking noble. Victoria could tell that they were not going to get along considering that her first impression towards him was rather ill-tempered and she was not going to apologize for how she behaved. The feeling must have been neutral for the elder as he was the first to break the gaze and turned his back towards her, hiding his hardening face.
"I'm sure you're exhausted from your trip and would like to rest," he continued. "If you do not mind following, I'll guide you to your bedchambers. My servants will collect your belongings and carry them to your room."
Without another word or glancing over his shoulder, Jasper began walking into his own estate. Victoria was not given much choice as she hastened up one of the stairwells and followed the gaunt man into his abode. Like the outdoors, the inside of the mansion did not produce much heat, which to the young woman's dismay did not make her mood any better. How could someone enjoy living in this sort of weather?
Forcing her attention on anything aside from the cold, the first thing that the young woman noticed was the architecture of the building. The gothic inspired ceiling stood two stories tall with chandeliers gleaming soft candlelight and stone pillars symmetrically lining the matching walls. The only thing that did not seem to be made out of stone were the countless cherrywood doors that Victoria passed and the seldom piece of art that were passed down from generation to generation with the way some of them stood. Though there were elongated windows, very few had their thick velvet curtains pulled back to allow the natural sunlight in.
It was depressing and Victoria made a note that whenever she had free time, she would spend it outdoors and away from whoever had to watch her. The merchant's daughter immediately paused when she saw Jasper pull open a gated door then faced her. Behind the door was a contraption that the young woman did not recognize that had two levers and a handle on each side of the cage like walls.
"You expect me to go in that thing?" Victoria asked, suspicion rising in her tone.
"This elevator will be the fastest way to your room from where we stand and unfortunately I'm not as free moving as I used to be," Jasper responded.
The merchant's daughter hid a snort beneath her breath before she stepped into the small elevator, not assured that it made a slight creaking noise. Almost wanting to ensure her own safety, Victoria would have stepped out from the manmade contraption if Jasper did not step in and closed the door behind them. The elder reached pass the young woman and pulled the left lever halfway up.
Victoria stiffened when she heard the creaking sound followed by the elevator moving in an upward direction. The young woman grabbed hold of one of the wall railings until her knuckles turned white, wishing she could be anywhere else. She took a quick glance at the gaunt man to see that he kept his calm demeanor, one hand on the lever and the other raising the pipe to his lips. How could he remain so stoic on such a loud and shaky contraption?
The ride did not last long as they reached the third floor of the estate and Jasper pulled the lever back to the position it started. The elder noticed that the foul mood that the merchant's daughter had a short while ago was completely faced with fear. A part of him was slightly amused that the supposedly fearless and brazen girl was scared of a little elevator, but it would be immature of him to relish in her misery. He still had to show his guest where she was going to be staying and perhaps have someone guide her through the rest of the mansion, particularly either a servant or his youngest child.
As soon as the two stepped out from the elevator, Victoria took in a deep breath of relief. She was definitely going to have someone tell her how to move throughout the mansion without having to use that evil contraption. Though she enjoyed the peculiarly odd device, the elevator was by far her least favorite and she would do anything to avoid it.
The merchant's daughter glanced at Jasper, all thoughts about the elevator pushed to the back of her mind.
"I hope you do not mind, but as a guest and potential future daughter-in-law, are there any health issues you have that I should be aware about? The last thing I want to do is have you become ill when it can be preventable," Jasper started.
Victoria shook her head. "Never had any health issues and never will."
"So, no food allergies I presume?" the man questioned.
"None," the young woman answered. "Why?"
"I think after you have a few hours of rest, you would prefer having supper in the company of my family. You are the guest of honor and it would be nice to treat you as such."
The merchant's daughter knew better than to wholeheartedly trust this man's words and happily accept the settled demand. This was a formality, nothing more than a mere business tactic that doubled as a diplomatic truce between two people in a public area. If there were any benefits that could come out of the situation, it would be that the young woman would get a warm meal and perhaps learn a little bit about Lord Jasper. Though she was in his territory, that did not mean that she had to be a pawn in his scheme; two could play this game of who possessed more power.
Before she could properly decline, a startled yelp made her rip her attention from her host to whoever stood behind him. The voice did not go unnoticed to the gaunt man as he turned, raising one of his eyebrows in confusion. Just a few yards away was Ivilis, hands clasped over his mouth and eyes wide with bewilderment. With that sort of reaction, Victoria assumed that the elder man did not tell his son when she was to arrive.
"Ivilis," Jasper sternly started. "Lady Victoria is going to stay with us for the time being. I hope that's not a problem for you."
The golden haired adolescent shook his head, lowering his hands from his mouth. His cheeks were already getting that shade of pink that the merchant's daughter found annoying, but she made the decision that Ivilis was terrible at hiding his emotions and would rather be honest about them. Victoria felt a bit sorry for the young man, he would not survive in a world that was infested with selfish people using others to do their biddings and placing the blame on them.
"She'll also be joining us for supper."
Victoria opened her mouth to immediately countered, but a sharp glare from Jasper made her suddenly snap it shut and her blood boiled with fury.
"Really? You don't mind joining us?" Ivilis inquired.
The merchant's daughter glanced at the young noble then away. "After I get some rest and started to organize my things."
"Your things? I thought you were only going to be staying for probably a few days or a week at most. Are you staying for more than just that specific time?"
How much did Jasper not tell his son? It was a thought that instantly struck Victoria and she was nearly tempted to ask, but another thought invaded her mind. She was supposed to be here due to the fact that she was betrothed to Ivilis and the more time she was with him - according to her father and this man's plan - the more likely she was going to agree to the wedding. The merchant's daughter pondered about these two conflicting thoughts that she did not either Jasper or Ivilis call her name a few times.
"Victoria, are you all right?"
"Huh? What?" the young woman snapped back to reality. "Sorry, a lot was on my mind and I'll admit that the journey did take a little bit of energy out of me. It wasn't a completely smooth transition."
Jasper frowned. "Not a smooth transition?"
"Yes, but it would be better if I explained it when I'm more energetic. I'm afraid that if I explain things when partially dazed, I might forget a detail or two."
It was not the entire truth, but it was partially true. Victoria thought better when she was fully rested and she did not have so much on her mind. The journey, the sudden ambush during it and the potential reality of a wedding were beginning to take their toll on the young woman. All she wanted to do was race out of the estate and fire countless rounds of bullets at whatever target she could find, but she did not have her revolvers and she doubted that the lord of the estate would let her freely wander around without an escort.
"Well, I shall leave you to rest then. I hope you enjoy your stay here, Lady Victoria," Jasper stated.
Victoria gave a simple nod before watching the gaunt man walk down the hall then taking the elevator downstairs. She shuddered at the thought of riding that contraption again, but it was completely pushed to the back of her mind when she faced Ivilis. The young man still had the blush on his cheeks yet there was more than just the simple embarrassment; he was partially concerned and curious about his guest.
"Do I have something on my face?" the merchant's daughter questioned.
"No." Ivilis glanced away. "I didn't know that you were going to be arriving this week. I thought after you stated your thoughts to your father, he would've not let you go anywhere."
Victoria sighed. "You're not wrong."
"What? He honestly would keep you housebound if you spoke your mind?"
"He believes he can." The young woman glanced at the door that led to her room. "If it's not keeping me within the estate's borders, he would attempt to send me somewhere far from the south. I'll admit, this is one of those few times that he successfully got his way and I couldn't find an alternative solution."
The shy expression on Ivilis's face waned and more concern became evident. Why was Victoria telling him this? What happens in the Conners estate that was never brought to the public eye?
Almost as if she was reading his thoughts, Victoria faced the young man with a calm yet stern expression. The golden haired youth flinched, but nothing physical happened and some of his nerves automatically relaxed.
"You don't need to worry about my wellbeing, but rather your own. Someone as honest as you won't last long in a world that's this cruel," she continued.
"It's difficult to hide how I feel about anything," Ivilis admitted. "I know the world is cruel and the people are selfish, but how can I make a difference acting like them?"
Victoria frowned. "Acting?"
"Only when I'm in those places. I don't like pretending to be a nobleman who has everything set in stone and having others do what needs to be done. That's probably why only my family and you see how I truly behave," the young man explained.
The merchant's daughter stood silent. Though she did not want to admit it, hearing that sort of explanation without a fault in there was admirable, inspiring even. She used her brash and rebellious nature to make her point across, but Ivilis used his honest emotions to make his point noticed. It made that feeling of them being too different not as evident as it was earlier in the week.
Before the thought could become more than a though, Victoria shook her head and forced it out of her mind. Even if Ivilis and her could get along, the situation was not something she approved of and needed to make that fact clear. The most she could possibly be with this person is an acquaintance or if she had to inherit the business, a professional partner, nothing more and nothing less. It was then that a single question invaded her mind and she fully focused her attention on Ivilis, all traces of emotion hiding from her face.
"What do you think about this marriage?"
Ivilis froze. "This marriage? What do I think about it?"
"Yes. I haven't heard what you think about the arrangement and if you are honest, I want to hear your opinion as well," she stated.
"It's not something that I want to do personally. I know eventually I would have to wed someone and continue my lineage, but I'm still young and it's not something I want to think about," the young lord admitted, carefully choosing his words.
"So, you do not agree with this?"
Ivilis slowly nodded. Victoria felt a weight lift off her; both parties were mutual about the arranged marriage yet their fathers thought otherwise. The merchant's daughter stood silent for a few minutes before a yawn slipped through her lips and she was unable to stop it.
"Ah, should I let you rest?" the young man inquired.
"I think that'll be a good idea." Victoria turned to the door, placing a hand on the handle. "Thank you for being honest with your answer. That may help later down the road."
Ivilis sighed. "If you think it would. Have a good rest."
The merchant's daughter did not continue the conversation as she heard the young man walk down the hall. It was a shame that they were on opposing sides, Ivilis was a refreshment amongst the crowd of double-minded people.
Wasting no time, Victoria entered the room and crossed over to the bed, not taking in any of its scenery. She was too tired to do much of anything and she would need what little energy she had for supper time. Though she may have lost the battle with Jasper, there was no way he was going to win the war. This was her life and she was going to do whatever she pleased with it, one way or another.