“My lady! Really, where did that child run off to?”
A lone maid frantically searched the manor she worked in, known as the Lockwood Estate. It was time for the young lady of the house to begin her next lesson, but once again, she was nowhere to be found.
Another maid hurried over to her. “Any luck locating the lady?”
The first maid shook her head in dismay. “There’s no sign of her in the gardens. Perhaps she’s resting?”
“No, I have already checked her quarters.”
Sighing, the she folded her arms in thought. She loved the little lady to death, but she made their jobs so difficult.
“Keep searching for now. The mistress will be displeased if she hears that the young lady has alluded us again.”
The mistress the servants spoke of was Lady Genevieve Lockwood, one of the nobles in the village of Norwick and the current head of the estate. Born into nobility, she abided by numerous standards: standards she expected all members of her home to follow.
That included her sole blood relative: her granddaughter, Emma Lockwood.
She was the only daughter of her late son, who had passed in an accident, along with his wife. Ever since, Emma has lived at the Lockwood estate, and Lady Lockwood planned to fully train her in the ways of proper etiquette.
Unfortunately, the child had a different path in mind. She truly was a free spirit, and she had no desire to follow the plan her grandmother set for her. The idea of being married off to a random nobleman she never met, only to become a trophy wife, did not interest her in the least. However, now that she had reached the proper age, her grandmother was enforcing her rules with an iron fist, so to speak. Sadly, there was little room for resistance, since the stubborn old woman served as her sole guardian.
Emma was supposed to spend her days with various tutors for proper etiquette training. In truth, it absolutely bored her to death. She would much rather lock herself in the library. Since her youth, Emma had become quite fascinated with the outside world, especially plant life. But with the restrictions her grandmother set, the only experience she could gain was from textbooks. As a result, the library became her personal sanctuary.
Except for today.
With the maids scouring the entire manor, it would only be a matter of time before she was discovered. So, Emma decided to leave the manor entirely, if not for a little while.
After carefully slipping through the hallways, she managed to reach her chambers. There, she quickly discarded the dress she was wearing and replaced it with a simple blouse, a long skirt with an apron, and tan boots: a perfect disguise as a common villager. As a final touch, she tied back her red hair in a mid-ponytail with a dull white ribbon. Long hair tended to get in the way, but if she ever attempted to cut it, her grandmother would certainly have a heart attack.
Somehow, the Lockwood heiress managed to get outside undetected. Her trick was to climb out her window, then shuffle along the wall until she reached the nearest tree. One would think such a display would be extremely noticeable, yet not one of the servants saw her. Perhaps they did not expect the young mistress to climb walls and trees.
When the coast was clear, Emma made a break for the surrounding trees. It would have been downright foolish to use the main gate, so the girl chose to slip through the forestry as cover.
The streets of Norwick were so lively! Everyone seemed to happily go about their business, chatting with friends or haggling over a purchase. Emma truly loved the atmosphere of it all.
It was not the first time she had left the manor; her grandmother would bring her out for certain errands or fittings. Yet, this was the first time Emma was there as a villager, not a noblewoman, and she had never felt so free.
Dressed as a lady, people often stopped what they were doing to let them pass, while others would simply stare. The extra attention was unnecessary in Emma’s opinion: she was just as human as everyone else. Still, no matter what she said, people treated her differently due to her grandmother’s status.
Emma shook her head, banishing such thoughts. For the moment, she had no title. This was an opportunity for her to be a normal girl, at least until she returned.
As the girl walked through the streets, she paid close attention to the various shops and stalls. Most of them were quite familiar from her previous trips, like the bakery, the bookstore, the tailor, and the silversmith. Luckily, none of the shop owners seemed to recognize her, and if they did, they graciously paid her no mind.
Emma’s gray eyes soon rested on a shop she did not recognize. Curious, she decided to investigate. As she drew closer, a sweet aroma filled her senses. It wasn’t at all like the smell of the bakery; the scent reminded Emma of her grandmother’s perfumes.
A small bell chimed as she entered the shop. The sight before her took her breath away. Never before had she been to a flower shop!
Various flowers were potted around the walls of the store, which had large windows to let the sunlight in. There were also numerous arrangements and bouquets with lovely color schemes. Emma could not resist wandering around, taking in as much as she possibly could.
“Ehem. May I help you, young miss?”
In her trance, Emma had failed to notice the shopkeeper, who had been watching her from the moment she stepped in. He was a young man, not much older than she, with vibrant green eyes and brown hair tied at the nape of his neck. His build was more on the lean side, though he was rather tall, Emma noted. The attire he wore was simple: a gray tunic with dark trousers and boots.
Realizing she had been staring, Emma sheepishly raised one hand. “Oh, that won’t be necessary. I only wish to look, if you don’t mind. I promise I won’t touch anything.”
The man chuckled as he said, “I certainly hope your word is good, miss.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?” Emma asked, taking offense to his statement. Did she seem untrustworthy to him?
“N-nothing!” the shopkeeper stuttered, realizing his poor choice of words. “Apologies. I just came into town recently, so I don’t know of the townsfolk. I have come across some rather dishonest people in the past.”
Mentally debating if he should be forgiven, Emma decided she could let this one go. “Well... I suppose I can understand that.”
With the conversation finished, Emma continued to explore the shop. On closer inspection, she could tell this was no ordinary flower shop. Of all the flower stands and bouquets she had seen, this collection stood out by far.
“You have lisianthus!” she cried as she admired the delicate, purple petals. “These flowers are rare in this area, aren’t they? How beautiful!”
Her statement caused the shopkeeper to raise his brow, but Emma had already moved on before he could respond.
“I’ve never seen a poppy this blue! Blue poppies are supposed to be rather difficult to grow, yet you have so many!”
The girl’s eyes never seemed to stop moving. Eventually, she paused and turned to the shopkeeper.
“The colors of your flowers are all so vibrant; is there something special in the soil you use?”
“... Is it possible you know your way around flowers, miss?”
His question brought a light blush to Emma’s cheeks. She played with her fingers behind her back.
“Well, perhaps a little. I really am fascinated with them. There’s so much more to flowers than decoration. They can carry messages, help humans with ailments, and even use toxins to defend themselves. I can’t help but want to learn more, though I mostly rely on what I read in books.”
As she spoke, Emma could have sworn more buds were blooming at that moment. However, she dismissed the idea; she must have been seeing things. Then she remembered the shopkeeper, whom she had just rambled to.
“Apologies. I got a bit carried away. That wasn’t very dignified, was it?”
“Why would I care about being dignified?”
Emma’s eyes widened at the statement; with her strict upbringing, no one had ever brushed her behavior off so easily. Instead, he smiled at her.
“To be perfectly honest, I find your passion for flowers to be quite refreshing.”
For once, Emma could feel her body relax. With his words, she knew that she could be herself in this place. Her eyes softened as she blushed. “Thank you...”
The moment was broken as Emma noticed a familiar face on the streets. She recognized one of her grandmother’s footmen; he had just walked past the shop, and he was obviously searching for something. Emma took this as a sign that her grandmother had noticed her absence and had sent the servants to look for her.
The girl realized that at this point, it would be wise for her to return home before she caused a scene. She mentally sighed in defeat.
‘There really is no place to run.’
Disappointed, her eyes looked back to the shopkeeper. “Forgive me, but I have to go.”
Emma then dashed out the door, but to her surprise, the man followed after her.
“Wait! Why the rush?! You haven’t even told me your name!”
“It’s Emma!” she called behind, not looking back.
Soon she was completely out of sight. The man stood outside his shop, watching where the retreating figure had just been.