The crimson-eyed mouse stood frozen, its stance far from that of a typical creature, with both front paws raised and hesitant steps backward. Gradually, it distanced itself from Kasser and then leapt over Aldrit’s body, nimbly climbing up his shoulder.
Kasser found Mara’s reaction intriguing. Like a frightened dog tucking its tail between its legs, he half-buried himself in the nape of Aldrit’s neck, exposing only his head. Mara’s attempts at self-preservation seemed feeble, as though he believed Aldrit could serve as an impenetrable shield.
According to the information Eugene had gleaned from an old woman of the ancient tribe, both Mara and Sang-je were formidable monsters with lifespans beyond measure. It was possible that even she wouldn’t stand a chance if she were to confront these monsters head-on.
“Is it an innate instinct for larks to fear the king?” Kasser wondered, likening it to a frog encountering a snake, freezing in place. If that were the case, any powerful king would have the upper hand. Momentum was half the battle in combat, and those who retreated in fear couldn’t fully harness their strength.
Kasser’s speculation was nearly accurate, but not entirely. Mara remained oblivious to the wealth of information Kasser possessed. Consequently, he harbored a deep fear of the king’s ability to instantly discern his true identity.
Mara had never been in close proximity to the king, nor had he ever engaged in conversation with him. Faced with his ultimate adversary, capable of obliterating him, he couldn’t afford to be careless. Compared to Sang-je, Mara appeared as innocent as a child.
His Majesty appears to see through everything, Aldrit thought, gazing at Kasser in astonishment. In his mind, a clamorous inner voice echoed.
“Hey, what’s your game here? Step forward and make a move. You’re not planning a betrayal, are you? Loyalty is a must if you want to be of any use. Humans should uphold honor!”
Discussing human concepts like loyalty within the context of larks seemed ludicrous to Aldrit. At times, he found this monstrous creature’s chatter irksome. Despite knowing the truth about these beings called larks, he couldn’t entirely despise this bothersome creature. While he wouldn’t make the slightest sacrifice for Mara, he could still utter something like, “He’s not such a bad guy.”
“Your Majesty, may I dare to speak?” Aldrit ventured. “This mouse isn’t Mara himself; it’s merely being manipulated through trickery. Wouldn’t it be wiser to ascertain Mara’s intentions rather than dealing with the situation hastily?”
Kasser had no immediate intentions of confronting Mara. He harbored a curiosity about Mara’s hostility towards Sang-je, the reasons behind it, and whether their relationship was strained enough that Mara could be leveraged in the process of countering Sang-je.
“Very well, I’ll hear your tale,” Kasser said, crossing his arms and reclining in his chair. “I’ll ask once more: why do you wish to meet the queen?”
Mara scrutinized Kasser cautiously, as if trying to determine the sincerity behind his words, before gingerly climbing back onto the table.
“That’s something I’ll share with Queen Anika when we meet,” Mara declared.
Kasser’s brows furrowed. “Do you expect me to permit someone whose purpose I don’t know to meet the queen?”
A sly smile curled on Mara’s lips. “I’ve already had the pleasure of meeting Anika.”
Kasser swiftly deduced whom Mara had encountered. He marveled at the lengths to which this impostor had gone to deceive him.
“I’ll pass along your message to the queen,” Kasser said, rising from his seat. He turned to Aldrit and inquired, “Aldrit, can you influence this mouse in any way?”
Aldrit shook his head, explaining, “I can’t control it directly, but I need to be present for Mara to manipulate this mouse.”
Having ingested the seed provided by Mara, Aldrit now retained a connection to Mara’s energy within his body, enabling him to use small creatures like the mouse to convey his thoughts.
“Sven,” Kasser called out to his aide, “prepare suitable accommodations for Aldrit.”
Sven, though wearing a puzzled expression and concealing his doubts, replied faithfully, “Of course, Your Majesty. Consider it done.”
When Eugene awoke that morning, an unusual sense of refreshment washed over her. It felt as if all the accumulated fatigue had simply dissipated in an instant. Although she had been weary during the carriage ride, the night’s rest in the palace’s comfortable bedroom had made a world of difference.
She stretched her limbs and surveyed the room, a pleasant warmth settling in her chest.
This is my home, she thought.
During her previous stay at the royal mansion in the Holy City, she couldn’t fully embrace the notion of being at home, knowing that she’d have to pack her belongings again soon. Back then, she attributed it to her not yet fully adapting to this world. But now, upon returning, she realized the truth: there was no place that brought her as much comfort as this.
With one hand on her belly, she marveled at this newfound sense of belonging. This was the home where she would nurture and raise her child. As she envisioned the little one taking its first steps, her thoughts wandered, and her eyes welled up with tears for no apparent reason. Perhaps it was the hormonal effects of pregnancy, but she felt the emotions swell within her.
Eugene summoned her maids and gracefully went through her morning routine, donning her clothes. While they assisted her, she organized her thoughts about the tasks she needed to accomplish that day.
The previous day had been a blur, with Eugene in a daze for most of it, her memories limited to eating and sleeping. Staying in such a state throughout her pregnancy concerned her. However, given her current condition, she seemed more than capable of maintaining a regular daily routine.
“I’ll begin by calling the chamberlain, reviewing the reports, and then…” Eugene paused in her planning as a maid entered the room and curtsied.
“Your Majesty, His Highness has sent a message saying he will join you shortly. He suggests having breakfast together,” the maid relayed.
Eugene raised an eyebrow. “Has His Highness not had breakfast at this hour?” she inquired.
“He convened a meeting early in the morning,” the maid explained.
Eugene couldn’t help but think, That man is addicted to work‘ Just yesterday, he had dismissed all the officials, and now he was calling a meeting on an empty stomach. If he was skipping meals, the atmosphere in the meeting room must have been quite intense. Summoning officials so early seemed a bit excessive.
But, she mused, they say that the king should make life uncomfortable for his officials so that the people can live comfortably.