For three days after that, Kalion couldn’t see Erna.
The morning after their time together, Kalion had massaged her entire body, making sure every single muscle was relaxed and supple. Of course, Erna had thrown a cushion at his face as she left, and hadn’t passed up the opportunity to call him a cold-blooded asshole before she’d closed the door. She couldn’t stay, she had to get ready to greet the Haband’s delegation that was arriving soon.
Part of the agreement between Erna and Kalion was that they couldn’t meet if they had responsibilities to attend to. So, Kalion had no choice but to accept Erna’s absence.
Even though he knew Erna wasn’t coming, Kalion still religiously went to the master bedroom at 10PM. While his behavior was habitual, it was also more comfortable for him to work at the desk in the bedroom. But as time wore on, and he was kept company by nothing more than the firewood crackling in the hearth, Kalion found himself glancing towards the empty bed more and more frequently.
I really should look for another priest, he thought.
He didn’t want to ask Vanessa again; he’d feel too bad. He felt it was better to use a personal connection in this sense. He remembered when he’d first arrived in Hessenguard. He’d had no one to turn to, no one to help him… But now he’d built and grown the Knight Order to such an extent that he had many people who he could call his own.
Kalion glanced between the bed and the document he was supposed to be reading. Then he shook his head and raised a new document to his eyes. “This is…” he muttered.
Just as Cedric had said, the document contained a list of all the knights that would be guarding the Haband delegate. Listed there was also the standard by which Cedric had chosen the knights.
It went as follows: I don’t want to give the Haband delegates anything to look down on, so I chose the best looking and fittest knights we have. They are all well-accomplished and have the skills to protect Archduke Erna without a problem.
Kalion blinked heavily, then reread what Cedric had written. For a long while, he couldn’t take his eyes off the document.
Erna sighed heavily, then quickly covered her mouth with her hand. It wasn’t the first time this ride that she thought she should have just taken a horse. The only reason she went in the carriage in the first place was for formality. But it had only made her grumpy. It kept reminding her of the old days. The only saving grace she could count at that moment was the fact that she was alone in the carriage.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” she kept repeating to herself. It had become like a personal mantra over the last few days.
Marquis Canavan was powerless in Hessenguard. She and Kalion were the authorities here, and Marquis Canavan could do nothing more than come, look around, and then leave.
‘He can’t pull any of his tricks here,’ she reminded herself.
Erna knew the incident that had taken place on that first, disgraceful night had been by his order. Not long after Marquis Canavan had arrived in Hessenguard, there was a pandemic. He’d quickly packed up and left, leaving behind a handful of maids. Abandoned and alone, the maids had held a meeting to try and figure out what they were to do next.
“Marquis Canavan left us here in Hessenguard to save himself… What a terrible predicament we are in now. We treated Princess Erna badly because of the Marquis. He was going to be the regent for the princess, the true authority of this place… But now… With the way the princess glares at us, the townsfolk are never going to let us close to her.”
“If I had known this was the way things were going to turn out, I would have treated the princess better…”
Erna had overheard their conversation and had thus figured out that the awful event on the first night had been Marquis Canavan’s doing.
Was it truly all because of him? The thought set Erna so badly on edge that she started biting her nails again. She could hardly believe she was going to see him.
“We have arrived! I can see the delegation there!” one of the knights shouted.
The townsfolk slowed their pace and stepped out of the way when they heard his voice. The carriage driver slowed the horses, and Erna poked her head out the window to see what was going on. Sure enough, she could see an impressive crowd of people gathered together. For the first time in a long time, she saw they were wearing Haband clothes that bore Haband’s symbol.
Erna’s face paled. She had to speak to them now. She had to speak to the people, who had laughed at her and insulted her, as if nothing had ever happened. She had to speak to them as the Archduke of Hessenguard.
She thought that the 10 years she’d been preparing herself would be enough. She thought she was ready. But now that the moment had arrived, she could feel her breathing becoming shallow, and the overwhelming urge to run took over her. As the carriage pulled to a stop, Erna bit her lip to try and calm herself down. The time had arrived, she had to speak to them.
“Ma’am?” Orpé called from outside the carriage. She found it strange that Erna hadn’t stepped out yet.
The voice seemed to break her out of her steadily rising panic. Erna grabbed the handle of the carriage and took a deep breath. ‘Just open the door and get out. It’s as simple as that.’
Erna tried to open the door, but her arm refused to respond to her wishes. She froze. She had to speak to these people alone.
The sound of frantic hoof beats, accompanied by surprised cries from the people, indicated that a horse and rider were fast approaching.
Erna didn’t even get the chance to wonder what was going on outside. The carriage door was suddenly opened, leaving her reaching out in front of her like a fool. She heard a man click his tongue at her, and then an outstretched hand appeared in her view
“Let me help you out.”
Erna was speechless as she stared down at Kalion’s upturned palm.