CHAPTER 1: A TOY HORSE
“That’s a high-level product.”
Mrs. Fizz spoke in a proud voice and pointed to a girl.
“Eloise, step forward. Show them your face. So it’s easier to see.”
The child, who was openly pointed at, crouched and bowed her head. But she was forced to lift her face up by a rough hand.
The frightened green eyes were as big as the cat they met in the middle of the night.
“This color is rare. Look, it’s a very precious emerald.”
As if she was right, Mrs. Fizz looked at the man in front of her and asked again.
The man standing in front of her was tall and thin. There was no laughter in his sharp eyes. The man, who seemed highly cautious and sensitive, was exuding the atmosphere of a nobleman to the point of catching anyone’s breath and attention.
It was not only this man who visited the orphanage for the purpose of sponsorship. But he was different from the other nobles. It was because Mrs. Fizz’s actions were more willing than usual. Even young Eloise’s eyes could see a leaner figure than the other aristocrats who had visited the orphanage.
“How is it, Count? This will be the perfect flower for the Imperial Palace.…….”
‘The Imperial Palace?’
Heloise’s eyes widened at the words that came out of Mrs. Fizz’s mouth. She said it was the Imperial Palace. If so, then that man belongs to the Imperial Palace. It meant that a count came to pick a toy on someone’s behalf.
“I think she’ll be a pretty good doll for him to play with.”
Mrs. Fizz said, turning Eloise’s face from side to side. The tight hold on her jaw hurt, but Eloise couldn’t bear to wince because if she did, then she would be badly beaten after the guest left.
Mrs. Fizz was a woman with an extraordinary talent for beating children in secret.
She was the seemingly elegant and benevolent orphanage director, and she was also exceptionally modest in her attire to boot. The only accessories she wore were the brooch on her chest.
However, it was an open secret that there was a hidden safe within the director’s office that only she could open.
The people working in the orphanage would secretly talk about it, saying that money and gold bars received under the name of sponsorship were piled up there.
“You’ll love it; she’s very good with handling kids younger than her. You’ll never find someone more suitable as a play maid.”
Mrs. Fizz, the head of the orphanage, introduced Eloise to the guest as such.
The man’s forehead was scrunched up as if he was contemplating something. He stared at her, observing—checking if she met the conditions he wanted.
The man ordered briefly. The accent and pronunciation were refined, but it felt different from the people of the Empire.
Mrs. Fizz quickly turned Eloise’s body around when she hesitated. Eloise almost fell down but managed to keep her balance.
“There seem to be no big scars on the body, bad habits, bad personality…..or something like that.”
“Of course, I wouldn’t have recommended her if there was. No matter how much a toy is, it would belong to someone of high rank, so it would be difficult if it had scratches.”
At the sound of Mrs. Fizz’s smirk again, Eloise withdrew more and more. No matter how young she was, she knew at once that the ongoing conversation was not normal.
‘A toy of a high-ranking noble.’
At those words, Eloise seemed to have her hair standing up.
The man looked at Eloise for a long time and then nodded.
“I’ll take that kid.”
Mrs. Fizz’s face lit up with apparent joy at the man’s words. Eloise, on the other hand, looked up at her with her face filled with fear.
Mrs. Fizz was even crueler today, even though she was not that warm of a person.
After everything was ready, Eloise got on the carriage and departed from the orphanage.
The golden lily emblem, which was received as a symbol of the empress’ sponsorship, was glowing brightly attached to the main entrance of the orphanage.
Eloise turned around and looked at the orphanage that was getting farther away. It wasn’t a place filled with good memories, but she was also not too fond of leaving it either. Now that she has no idea what kind of future waiting ahead of her.
Feeling anxious, Eloise clasped her hands together over her skirt.
The man sitting in front of her closed his eyes and did not move. He didn’t look like he was sleeping but didn’t seem like he would answer anything she asked. Her experience-based senses told her so.
In the end, Eloise gave up and leaned her back against the carriage chair. It was a soft cushion, but she was still far from being comfortable.
The Empress’s eyes glowered as if criticizing the young Eloise standing in front of her.
Eloise flinched back due to her instinctive fear but was immediately stopped by the man who had brought her. Regardless of her will, her tightly held body was forcibly pushed forward.
“After a few days of feeding and washing, she’d look much better.”
“She needs to gain some more weight. Her eyes almost cover half of her face.”
The count immediately nodded after the empress’ remarked.
“We will pay more attention to nutrition supply.”
“You’d be prettier if you had more fat on your cheeks.”
Eloise flinched as the Empress’s slender eyes stared at her.
As she clenched her thin, white fingers, the man who brought her here held Eloise’s shoulder and pushed her ahead.
Eloise hesitated but forcibly took a step forward and went in front of the Empress.
It was hard to guess the Empress’s age, with her smooth black hair, gleaming black eyes, and perfectly cared skin overflowing with luster; anyone would have a hard time guessing it right.
It was clear that at a glance, the woman possesses a domineering aura distinctive to people with high status. Even if she didn’t wear a crown, she was exuding power and nobility.
‘Is she really the empress?’ Even though the person in question was right in front of her, Eloise could still not believe it.
According to the stories she picked up while staying in the Imperial Palace for a few days, the Emperor was on the brink of death after a major accident and was barely breathing.
Furthermore, the Crown Prince was also ill, hence why the Empress did all the political affairs.
As the Empress Regent, the power she wields was overwhelming as she also represents the Emperor’s authority.
In the face of such a distinct presence, the colorful interior decorations filling the room paled in comparison. Eloise moved forward cautiously.
When the distance was narrowed to the point, she could be buried in the width of the Empress’s skirt.
Her small face was held by the Empress’s hands and lifted upwards. Eloise, who met her gleaming black eyes, didn’t know what to do and kept her eyes locked to the ground.
Long fingernails pierced her delicate skin, but Eloise held it in without a single groan.
The cold eyes fluttered slowly across Eloise’s face.
As the obsidian eyes stared at her emerald orbs, pale white skin, and lustrous pink-golden hair that reminiscent of summer’s histories, Eloise’s clenched fist welled up with sweat.
The Empress, who had been looking at her small face for a long time, had a warm smile on her face.
“If you eat and dress properly in the future, you’ll look much better.”
As the hand holding her chin continuously shifted, Eloise could only surrender her face helplessly.
“She’s about the same age as the Crown Prince, so she’ll be a good playmate. I checked with a court physician and found that she was free from illness and is in a very healthy shape.”
The count standing next to her said.
“I hope you’ll be a good toy for Rishid.”
The Empress sighed deeply and withdrew her hand from Eloise’s face. Eloise took a quick breath.
She remains silent while enduring the twinge of pain in her chin previously held by the empress.
“His Highness would surely get better now that he has someone to play with, although the courtiers didn’t recommend it that much.”
The empress’s face hardened at the count’s words.
“Isn’t it too early to expect that he’ll be cured with just one girl?”
“It’s going to get better. We’ve already prepared a playmate to help his highness relieve from the shock….”
Seeing the empress’s sharp eyes for a moment, the count quickly closed his mouth. Meanwhile, Eloise felt that her throat was being tightly held.
She couldn’t understand what the two of them were talking about. But she knew exactly what she was supposed to do.
Eloise, who turned 12 this year, grew up learning what her role was.
She became orphaned after losing both of her parents in a carriage accident. With no relatives for her to trust, her days of being alone began to pass by terrifyingly.
Eventually, Eloise, who had nobody to be entrusted with, was placed in an orphanage sponsored by the empress.
Without parents and money to protect her, it was common sense that she would be treated infinitely low. Moreover, Eloise’s doll-like appearance was only served as a reason to be ostracized by her peers.
Naturally, the place where Eloise was headed was the rooms of children who were younger than her and still needed the help of adults. Fortunately, the children followed Eloise very well. And therefore took on the role of playing with the children due to the shortage of nursery teachers.
“It’s up to you to do it.”
Before leaving the orphanage, Mrs. Fizz looked down at Eloise and said:
“You will serve someone very precious. It’s a stroke of rare luck.”
“…..Can I not go?”
For the first time since coming here, Eloise wanted to refuse. It was because an unfamiliar feeling of anxiety wrapped around her body. It was not because the orphanage was a good place to be in. But she was afraid to leave the only home she had adapted to.
Mrs. Fizz grabbed Eloise’s shoulder and emphasized it several times.
“You were paid with a very high price. If you make a mistake, you may have to vomit the money spent on you. No, the donation might be cut off altogether.”
The voice that whispered softly so that the count could not hear was full of blades. Worrying that she might ruin an important deal was well seen in the eyes of young Eloise.
Since Mrs. Fizz, the director, decided, there was nothing she could do. She has no other choice but to follow. And so, Eloise answered with her head down.
“I’m sorry. I’ll go. I’ll prepare.”
“It will be a good opportunity for you as well. You are the play maid of the Crown Prince. It is a place that other people are desperate to be in.”
Mrs. Fizz, slightly softened by the docile answer, sighed and stroked Eloise’s head. It was like treating an obedient dog.