It had been three long days since Elise had been thrown into the dank, miserable dungeon of the Van Yela Imperial Castle. She could hear the sounds of celebration filtering in through the open window – no doubt the army that had been sent to the South had returned victorious, and the people were rejoicing.
Elise hugged her knees to her chest, leaning her head against the cold stone wall. She was chilled to the bone, and the dampness of the cell seemed to seep into every inch of her being.
Three days before her execution, the Van Yela army, led by the Grand Duke of Kyrstan, had captured Elise and delivered her into the hands of the knights of their own imperial castle. She had been dragged down into this dungeon without even being allowed a chance to see the face of the emperor. It seemed that even he was unwilling to grant her the courtesy of a proper death, unlike the grand duke.
Somewhere in the darkness, Elise could hear the sound of a rat gnawing at the bars of her cell. Her prison cell was relatively clean, but the air was thick with the stench of sewage. She had never experienced such harsh conditions before, and it only served to highlight the luxurious life she had lived for the past month and a half under the protection of the grand duke.
As the days dragged on, Elise spent her time sitting behind the bars of her cell, listening to the conversations of her guards. Through their idle chatter, she learned about the execution ceremony that would take place after the festival. The execution platform was said to be set up in the main square of the capital.
When the last member of the royal family of Argan is led to the executioner’s block, the end of Argan will be marked with their demise, and the ceremony will be known to signal the end of an era.
Three days have passed, and Elise had only two more days until she was scheduled to be taken to the execution platform.
The sound of footsteps echoing through the cold, empty corridors reached her ears. It was the sound of a servant dragging a heavy suitcase, no doubt filled with the clothing of the person who would soon be meeting their end. Elise forced her lifeless body to move, dragging herself closer to the bars of her cell.
Two men could be heard talking nearby.
“Well, the head chef says to divide up the remaining food among the prisoners. I brought a little bit for you too.”
“Ah, it’s great to have a victory celebration, huh?”
“It was. My eyes were delighted, my mouth was satisfied, and my ears were filled with praise.”
“What were the nobles buzzing about this time?”
“What else? The princess of Argan that the Grand Duke captured this time. She’s locked up in there.”
Elise held her breath, her hood pulled over her head.
“They say that that barbarian prince has been quietly trying to win over His Majesty. He plans to imprison her in the Ugel stronghold until the execution ceremony. Speaking of Ugel, aren’t they currently staying in the Imperial Palace? What could they possibly be doing in the Imperial Palace, wanting to keep a woman with them in a private room?”
The servant spat in disgust at the mention of the savages; Elise’s complexion turned pale.
The servant glanced at the inside of the cell before speaking in a low voice.
“By the way, is she really that beautiful? The princess, I mean.”
“I don’t know, sir. She’s been huddled in her hood ever since she was brought here. I’ve never seen her face. I barely even saw her hair. She’s a weak princess who couldn’t even wash properly, so I’m sure her hair must be unkempt.”
The servant let out a disappointed sigh as he finished his food.
“I can’t help but be curious, but I can’t ask her to take off her hood…”
“Why? Because she’s a princess? It’s not like she has much longer to live anyway.”
“No, that’s not it. His Majesty the Grand Duke specifically ordered us not to lay a hand on the prisoners.”
Elise raised her heavy hands and fiddled with the hood, then let out a sigh. Did he give that order as well? She stared at the heavy handcuffs that had been attached by the Grand Duke of Kysrtan himself. As he fastened the restraints, the duke let out a heavy sigh and produced a handkerchief, using it to secure the handcuffs to her slender wrists. The chain connecting the handcuffs was then handed off to one of the imperial knights.
As she looked down at her bound wrists, Elise winced at the feeling of the rough chains rubbing against her bones each time she moved. Yet, the pain was bearable. The handkerchief appeared to be linking the handcuffs and her wrists together, but upon closer inspection, it was clear that it had been wrapped around her wrists and palms several times. This explained why there were no bruises or tears on her delicate skin.
Was it intentional, this added layer of protection for her wrists? Elise couldn’t be sure, as the duke’s expression gave nothing away. She tentatively touched the knots on her hands, grateful for the small mercy the duke had shown her by preventing the jailer from getting too curious. No one had spoken to her even though she was covering her face.
Perhaps the duke’s aloof personality was to blame. Elise couldn’t help but wonder what he really thought of her, if he knew that his constant favors despite his indifferent attitude were giving her a glimmer of hope.
And if she were to tell his lord a blatant lie, would he forgive her?