Rezette cast a quick glance at the distant church clock. It was almost noon. The mansion he owned outside the city was far from the square, and the knights and their squires, along with the servants, were bustling about in front of the mansion, preparing to return to their fiefs.
Rezette’s detachment of soldiers numbered around a thousand, led by him from Rotiara. Most of Rotiara’s knights, led by their commander Arsel, had already returned to Rotiara, leaving only a little over two hundred soldiers. Rezette’s black stallion was prancing at the head of those waiting in formation.
Ruben, who had been keeping watch, reported: “Your Highness, all preparations have been made. We only need to load the spoils you ordered.”
“Very well. We’ll depart as soon as everything is loaded.”
“But have you seen the square?” Ruben interjected.
Rezette turned his gaze to Ruben, who continued, oblivious to the stern look in Rezette’s eyes. “It’s today. The execution of Princess Argan is taking place. It’s about to start soon.”
Silence descended on Rezette. The square had been packed with people since morning, as the news had already spread throughout the kingdom. The most beautiful lady in Grandel, Princess Argan, was to be executed. It was perfect material for the gossipmongers, especially since she was also the princess of a fallen kingdom.
Ruben continued, unaware of Rezette’s inner turmoil. “And there are even those who hope for miracles, like the princess using magic to disappear from the execution platform or calling down lightning. That’s a scene that even appears in the Gallian myth, where the hero Gallian called down lightning to save his comrade and split the execution platform in half….”
“That’s enough. I can’t listen to any more of this,” Rezette interrupted sharply. “Don’t listen to useless things, and make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. I’m not planning to do anything in the imperial capital for a while.”
“I wasn’t trying to listen,” Ruben interjected, “I just heard it being talked about everywhere. Anyway, you’re really not going to go?”
Rezette raised an eyebrow. “Why should I go there?”
Ruben hesitated before speaking, swallowing hard. He wondered if the duke had any feelings at all for the beautiful woman with whom he had spent a month and a half. Had they shared a kiss, or was it all just business?
Rezette’s expression remained unchanged. “I don’t see how that’s relevant. Stop talking nonsense and get ready to leave.”
As they finished loading the spoils onto the cart, a bell tolled in the distance, signaling noon. The sound of the solemn bell resonated through the air, its icy toll ringing out twelve times. Rezette stood motionless, absorbing the somber notes until they faded away, taking with them the last remnants of his thoughts.
He estimated he could ride from the capital to Rotiara in three days, maybe five if unexpected setbacks occurred. Rezette was resolute – he wouldn’t return to the capital for at least three years after this trip.
With a firm tug on the reins, he signaled his detachment to prepare to depart. However, before he could leave, someone came running towards him. It was the timekeeper from the royal palace, panting heavily.
“Your Highness, Your Majesty!” the timekeeper called out.
“What is it?” Rezette asked, feeling an unexpected sense of unease.
“You must come to the palace right away. Her Majesty is urgently looking for you.”
Rezette’s mind raced. “What’s the matter?” he asked, his frown deepening.
“It’s related to the Princess of Argan.”
“The princess?” Rezette furrowed his brow and checked the time again. The minute hand had tilted significantly to the right. It was already past noon, the time the princess was scheduled to be executed.
“The execution has not been carried out,” the timekeeper explained hastily. “Before she was taken to the square, she requested an audience with His Majesty to convey a message.”
Rezette’s frown deepened. Even though he was yet to hear the timekeeper’s answer, an unfamiliar sense of unease enveloped him. He had a bad feeling that things wouldn’t go as planned.
“So, why is His Majesty looking for me?” he asked, trying to control his unease.
The hesitant timekeeper whispered quietly as he approached. His intuition was spot on.
Ruben, confused by Rezette’s sudden change of direction, called out to him. The duke’s face, as he passed by, was unnaturally rigid, signaling that something was very wrong.