Shame, humiliation, guilt, and Rezette bombarded her in quick succession. This ridiculous lie had not just sullied Rezette’s honor; it would have been preferable if it were true. She had become an impulsive prisoner who had entrapped the duke with her desires. Even if she tried to argue that she was the one who had seduced him first, the outcome would remain unchanged.
“Get up,” Rezette commanded.
Elise struggled to stand as the fog clouded her vision. She didn’t even realize that the words were directed towards her until her right arm was roughly seized. Confused, she looked up at him, but his gaze was not on her.
“I request an audience with Her Highness the Princess,” Rezette demanded, still holding Elise’s trembling arm.
“Answer the question first, Duke,” Noyer replied firmly.
“I have only received a couple of words from the messenger. Please give me time to understand the situation,” Rezette replied, his tone respectful but still seeking permission. Noyer’s eyes flicked to the princess, but before he could speak, Rezette interjected.
“Then I will take that as permission,” he declared before releasing Elise’s wrist and turning to face her, grabbing her hand tightly like a noose.
Noyer observed his younger brother as he exited the audience chamber, dragging the princess behind him like a ragdoll. The knight who had followed the supervisor outside stood motionless, appearing unsure of what to do.
“Ruben, come in here!” Noyer bellowed, his attention still focused on the closed door.
The knight jumped to his feet and hastily knelt before the throne. Without taking his gaze off the door, Noyer issued his instructions.
“Provide a detailed account of everything that took place between the princess and the duke, from the Argan border to the Imperial Palace. Include every single detail, no matter how insignificant.”
* * *
“Are you out of your mind?” Rezette barked as he grabbed Elise’s hands and wrists, pulling her out of the audience chamber.
Once again, Elise was unable to respond as she was swept away by his forceful touch and pushed against a stone decorative pillar. Her armor collided with the hard surface, producing a loud, painful noise, but she stifled her scream. It was not the time or place to display weakness.
“What were you thinking?” Rezette’s anger boiled over like a raging tempest. This was the third time he had unleashed his fury upon her, but unlike the previous occasions, it showed no signs of abating. For the first time since she had met him two months ago, the duke was openly hostile.
“I asked you a question, Your Highness. What were you thinking and planning?” The rigid formality that had always characterized their interactions was in disarray, a clear indication that Rezette’s composure had been shattered.
“Surely, we both know that such a thing could never happen?” Elise quivered as Rezette’s hostility pierced her like a sharp blade, tearing through her chest.
“I’m sorry, Your Grace. I apologize…” Elise murmured, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Apologizing for causing trouble is not what I want,” Rezette growled, his voice dripping with menace. “Tell me why you lied. This is the third time I’ve asked.”
Elise’s throat tightened. “You know what I want the most.”
“Speak plainly. I don’t understand if you beat around the bush.”
“I want to live. I want to live,” Elise pleaded, her body writhing in Rezette’s grasp. Suddenly, she broke free, tumbling to the ground.
“Is that all?” Rezette asked, his voice lowered, but still laced with resentment. Did she really want to live like this, without self-respect and dignity? Elise’s tear-stained cheeks confirmed the gravity of the situation. She had to live, no matter what. There was something she had to do, and she couldn’t let herself be dragged down by the heavy shackles on her wrists.
“I don’t want to die,” Elise said, her voice shaky. “I want to live, no matter what. There’s something I have to do, so I can’t just hang myself like this.”
“It’s something you have to handle on your own. You shouldn’t drag me into it,” Rezette replied, his blue eyes reproaching.
Elise let out a bitter laugh. “If I had tried to find another way, would you have just stood by and watched?” she asked.
“At the very least…” Rezette trailed off, closing his eyes for a long time before opening them again. “At the very least, if I had known you were planning something like this, I would have tried to come up with an alternative.”
Elise shook her head, her tears flowing freely. “No. That’s not true. Don’t lie,” she said. “You wouldn’t have even pretended to listen. No matter what tricks I tried or what words I blabbered, you would have turned a blind eye, wouldn’t you? You’ve already said you have no intention of helping me. You…”
“Your Highness,” Rezette began.
“I think I should have died in the square outside today.”
This time, Rezette did not immediately respond. He just let out a short, stuffy sigh, confirming Elise’s fears.
Rezette Kyrstan had delayed her execution for nearly two months, a display of mercy that was as cruel as it was kind. Elise knew that his apparent kindness towards her was just an attempt to allow someone who was going to die to enjoy their remaining time as much as possible.