Chapter 17.2

“Your Highness!” Lassino’s voice, raised in urgency, snapped Elena out of her thoughts.

Gazing beyond Lassino’s shoulder, Elena spotted Kennard and Serin approaching at the end of the corridor. Both were garbed in hunting attire, their clothes splattered with mud and moisture from their expedition.

Kennard took the lead, standing in front of Lassino. With deliberate movements, he removed his gloves and clenched one hand, while using the other to comb through his tousled hair. As he peeled off the cloak worn over his hunting attire, Lassino was swift to receive it along with the gloves.

“I greet His Highness the Grand Duke,” Elena and Cura stepped aside in the corridor, their heads bowed in a show of respect to Kennard.

“Your Highness, I heard you brought someone with you. Is it a captive?” Lassino inquired.

Kennard responded with a measured tone, “I don’t know yet. We captured a White Fox Tribe member who was wandering in the forest, but we’ll need to find out his identity.”

Elena slowly raised her head, her gaze scanning Kennard for any signs of injury or bloodstains. Fortunately, she found none, and she inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. Yet, her inexplicable unease continued to linger.

“Where were you heading?” Kennard inquired, his gaze shifting to Lassino.

“I was on my way out when I received the message of Your Highness’s arrival. Since you haven’t had breakfast, should I prepare lunch immediately?” Lassino offered.

“No, that’s not necessary. We need to interrogate the person we brought in first.”

“I’ll handle the interrogation, so you can have your meal,” Serin chimed in, removing his own cloak.

Kennard, however, remained firm in his decision. “That’s fine. I’m curious about why he entered the forest, and we need to find out what the symbol means.”

Without further words, Kennard turned and left down the corridor. Serin followed closely behind, briefly casting a glance at Elena before continuing on his way, and Lassino followed them both.

As Elena watched Kennard’s retreating figure, her heart sank. She couldn’t help but feel the absence of even a simple greeting, which he would typically offer.

What am I even thinking? Elena pondered. Perhaps she had grown accustomed to Kennard’s favor, and these unfamiliar emotions left her flustered and bewildered.

“Elena, miss.”

Elena turned with a start at the address, her attention drawn to Cura’s sly smile and narrowed eyes, her lips stretched into a mischievous grin.

“Yes?” Elena responded, her curiosity piqued.

Cura’s grin grew broader, and she couldn’t resist a playful jab. “Even covered in mud, isn’t he handsome?”

Elena’s face flushed with embarrassment, thinking for a moment that Cura had somehow peered into her thoughts. She was so flustered that she couldn’t manage a coherent response.

“I mentioned before that those two are the most handsome in the Baruchella Empire,” Cura continued, her teasing tone persisting. “Seeing them side by side, isn’t it impressive even in your eyes, Elena?”

“I don’t know…” Elena hesitated, her voice trailing off, leaving Cura wide-eyed and taken aback.

“Really? How can you not know?” Cura exclaimed in astonishment. “You can see it at a glance, right? They’re tall, broad-shouldered, fit, and especially…”

Cura was about to say more but suddenly covered her face with her hands.

“They have presence, you know,” she mused, her words more contemplative now. “It’s not just about being handsome; it’s something very manly. Like they embody the instincts of a beast. Oh, well, when my father tends to the garden, that side of him fades a bit.”

Elena found herself at a loss for words. If she agreed with Cura and declared Kennard and Serin handsome, she was afraid that something inexplicable might rise to the surface. Hence, she opted for silence, offering a somewhat awkward smile as her response.

Cura’s offer of food drew Elena’s attention back to the present, and she nodded in agreement. 

“If you go to your room, I’ll bring your meal,” Cura suggested.

With a nod, Elena watched as Cura headed in the opposite direction of the corridor, her steps light and cheerful. As Cura disappeared from view, Elena turned around.

At the end of the corridor, Kennard, Serin, and Lassino had congregated, deeply engrossed in a serious conversation. Just before they vanished from Elena’s sight, Kennard’s gaze appeared to meet hers—or at least, she believed it did. However, by the time she realized it, she had already turned her head, making it feel like nothing more than a fleeting illusion.

Turning the corner, Elena found herself staring blankly at the spot where the three had completely disappeared from her sight.


Elena had gathered several large cushions at the head of her bed, leaning against them, half-reclined as she sought comfort and rest.

Cura had already returned to her own quarters, leaving Elena to her own devices. Despite her best efforts, Elena had struggled to fall asleep and found herself tossing and turning in bed. In the dimly lit room, with the fireplace’s flames flickering gently, it was becoming increasingly difficult for Elena to discern whether she was dreaming or not.

A deep sigh escaped her lips, and she placed a hand on her chest, feeling the rapid thud of her heart. Her heartbeat remained elevated, a disconcerting unease creeping all the way up to her throat.

“Why is this happening?” Elena mused aloud.

This state had persisted since she heard the servant’s report about Kennard and his knights bringing in someone injured and bleeding. Initially, she had been startled by the prospect that Kennard might have been harmed, but a brief encounter assured her that he was unharmed. Nonetheless, the unease had lingered for over half a day, raising the question of whether she might be falling ill.

Unbeknownst to her, the injuries sustained during her rescue by Kennard two months ago might only now be manifesting symptoms. Elena contemplated the possibility of various scenarios and found herself contemplating, “Impossible… Or could it be that something is going to happen to me?”

Her mind was now filled with a medley of thoughts. Restlessness clung to her, and the stillness of the room only served to intensify her unease.



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