Elise lived a life devoid of knowledge and ability, ignorant to the ways of the world. She was foolish and powerless, with nothing to boast of except her body—a fact Elise acknowledged more acutely than anyone else.
Rezette Kyrstan was right; it was pointless to carry on a life that would only end in death. The weight of death hung heavily on Elise’s hands, leaving her too weak to wipe away her tears or even lift a hand to her face. Overwhelmed by sadness and despair, Elise cried for some time.
But eventually, she resolved to take control of her fate.
“If the truth must be revealed, then let us end it on our own terms,” she decided, when the royal knights would lead her to the gallows.
However, on the following day and the day after that, Elise wasn’t taken to the execution site, much to her surprise. She had been awake for three days straight, her senses heightened to an extreme degree. Despite her lack of sleep, Elise was unable to leave her confined room, and the maids were powerless to assist her. Despair consumed her as time ticked by, and she found herself incessantly scratching the pattern on her ankle.
As her body reached its breaking point, Elise lit a candle and spent yet another day in the same manner. Finally, unable to hold out any longer, she fell into a deep slumber, more like passing out than sleeping. In her restless state, she heard murmurs and whispers.
“What’s wrong with her pulse?”
“Well, it’s hard to believe it’s a living person’s pulse.”
“Her breathing seems fine, but her pulse is almost nonexistent?”
“Yes. Yesterday, we ended up taking a blood sample because of it, but the results were…”
Overpowered by the need for sleep, Elise drifted into unconsciousness.
When she awoke, she found herself in an unfamiliar location, lying down and looking up at an intricately painted ceiling. As she stood, her head spun and her vision grew hazy.
“Please be careful, Your Highness,” Yvesa said, carefully grasping Elise’s trembling hand.
“My name is Yvesa. I am the maid who will serve you from now on.”
“Maid?” Elise repeated, still trying to make sense of the situation. It took a few minutes for her vision to return to normal, but once it did, she saw the black-haired maid with kind eyes looking at her with concern.
“Perhaps it’s because you suddenly stood up. Your hands are very cold. Shall I help you with a bath?” Yvesa offered.
“No… I already bathed. I need to go out,” Elise said, hesitating as she was about to give an order. She couldn’t afford to act like she used to during her princess days. But Yvesa seemed to understand her thoughts.
“If you have any commands, please do not hesitate to speak up. The Duke ordered us to prepare whatever you want,” Yvesa said warmly.
“The Duke?” Elise repeated, confused.
“Yes, Your Highness. He will soon become your husband,” Yvesa said.
“What did you say?” Elise’s eyes widened in shock. But it seemed there were more surprises in store for her.
“The Duke has requested to see you, Your Highness. Are you ready to leave your quarters? He’s waiting for you in the reception room,” said Yvesa, the maid assigned to Elise.
“Rezette Kystan?” Elise asked, surprised.
“Yes, Your Highness. He arrived this morning but was informed of your cough and decided to wait until you were better,” Yvesa replied.
Elise was shocked that Rezette had waited for her. She got up quickly and opened the door, finding him just about to knock.
“If you’re not ready, I can wait,” he offered.
“No, it’s fine,” Elise hastily replied. She had brought this fate upon herself and longed to hear any news that might alleviate her despair.
But the duke remained aloof and disinterested.
“I’m not in a hurry to drag a woman who has just woken up to the reception room. Take your time to freshen up and come out.”
“I…I’m sorry. I must have dozed off for a moment.”
“You fell asleep?” Rezette gazed at Elise incredulously. It was hard to believe that she had merely blinked absentmindedly. “You’ve been resting for three days.”
“You were quite ill. Please bathe and eat, and then return. Alright?”
Rezette Kyrstan turned away and strode off. Elise watched his back receding down the hall, her thoughts racing. She was still alive six days after the scheduled execution. What could have happened?
Yvesa hurried towards Elise, placing a thick shawl over her trembling shoulders. “The Duke was right, Your Highness. You were seriously ill. Even the Emperor was concerned, and we were afraid it might harm the Duke’s baby.”
Suddenly, everything became clear to Elise. She stood in the middle of the room motionless until Yvesa led her to the bed. “You must rest now. First, have your meal. Please wait a little longer, Your Highness.” Dragging her like a lifeless doll, Elise weakly lay down on the bed, but not before grabbing Yvesa’s sleeve.
“Yvesa, could you prepare a pen and paper?”