“Drop your pretentiousness,” he sneered. “Don’t you know that you emperor took my sister and gave all her power to you?”
What? Elise was hearing this for the first time.
Was he talking about the circles Andrei carved into her body? The thought of Yanok knowing about the circles Andrei carved into her body made her blood run cold. The invisible magic circle engraved on her skin was a secret known only to her and Andrei.
Yanok snickered as he shook the key pouch. “I have to check before I kill you. To see if this bitch is really a wizard,” he said, a cruel gleam in his eye. “If you’re an empty can, I’ll just cut off your beautiful head and take it with me. A princess’s head will surely make a great bait.”
The key fit perfectly into the lock, and Elise shuddered at the sound of the turning key. But to her surprise, the prison door didn’t open. Instead, there was a heavy thud, followed by a dull sound.
The sound was so threatening that it felt as if bones were breaking. At the same time, the lamp that illuminated the prison went out, casting Elise into complete darkness.
She opened her eyes, but she could see nothing. She could hear someone making a hoarse sound and kicking nearby, being dragged away. The pitiful moans gradually became more distant, along with the heavy footsteps of someone else.
Elise unconsciously pursed her lips. “Sir, Sir Kirstan…?” she whispered, unsure why the man’s name came to her mind. Perhaps it was because the footsteps were similar, or perhaps it was because Sir Kirstan was the only one in this foreign land of Banyella who would do her a small favor. She felt a familiar presence that was big enough to be ignored, but not threatening.
However, there was no answer from the darkness. The footsteps resumed, steady and determined. The gasping of Yanok gradually faded until it was silenced completely.
Elise raised her trembling hands, clutching the iron rail, and shook it with all her might. The door remained firmly locked. Once again, the room was plunged into an eerie silence.
The man responded to her call with stony silence, not uttering a single word. Elise was still unable to decipher his thoughts. Was it part of his principles to care for a prisoner’s wrist so it wouldn’t be hurt on the executioner’s stand? Or was it simply a knight’s duty to protect the weak? Or perhaps, was he sympathizing with her?
She desperately hoped it was the latter.
She stood there, dazed and frozen, holding onto the bars for what felt like an eternity before finally mumbling, “Thank you.” But the silence that returned was still as desolate as ever. Elise kept the words she couldn’t bring herself to say locked away within her.
And I’m sorry.
Ever since she was captured, Elise had been racking her brain for ways to survive. No matter how much she pondered, there was only one person who kept coming to mind. He never answered her call, but he was still the kindest soul she had encountered in Van Yela.
Before she realized it, Elise leaned her tear-stained face against the iron bars, her thoughts consumed by the name that had been engraved in her memory. Rezette Kyrstan.
She could never forget him.
* * *
The morning of the execution day dawned.
Elise sat in the center of the prison, surrounded by walls that allowed only a slender beam of light to penetrate the room, and calmly collected her thoughts.
Today could be the last day of her life.
As she bit her lip, she tasted blood, her nerves getting the better of her. Elise fervently prayed that the plan, however uncertain, would be successful. With eyes closed and hands clasped, she recited a prayer, and a beam of light illuminated her. Her silky hair, combined with her slender shoulders, was like a halo as light sprinkled down. She looked as though she had stepped out of a painting.
Finally, Elise opened her eyes.
She raised her voice to the jailer, who furtively peered at her through the bars.
“Can you deliver the message that the princess of Argan requests an audience with the emperor of Van Yela?”
The emperor of Van Yela was not one to deny such a request, especially coming from the last prince of a kingdom that once ruled alongside them. Even if the emperor was suspicious of Elise, he would have granted the audience out of respect for their shared history.
Her intuition proved correct. The emperor granted the request and the doors of her prison cell creaked open. Elise was escorted by a knight, her shackles clanging with each step, as she made her way through the unfamiliar halls of the Van Yelan imperial palace.
As she walked, her thoughts wandered. She realized that she had strayed far from the idea of a noble death. Perhaps, she had always been distant from nobility, dating back to the day she was born. Elise was not a strong ruler, and she lacked the regal bearing that came with being royalty. Her entire life had been spent in the shadow of her twin sibling, never truly able to step out of their shadow. The people of Argan worshiped the princess they had never seen, but Elise had never lived up to their expectations, never leaving any lasting accomplishments.
Her parents and her twin, Andrei, must have known from an early age that she was not fit to rule Argan with the dignity and grace required of a ruler. They kept her hidden from the world, away from public scrutiny. But now, if she was to live, she was determined to make the most of it.