Realizing that it was best to keep the Princess hidden from the world’s prying eyes, except for his own, Rezette quickly made up his mind. At last, his hardened face softened slightly.
The archbishop declared the marriage bond formally and administratively. “The two have pledged to become a couple before God and many witnesses, so I declare that the marriage is consummated,” he proclaimed, his voice echoing through the chapel.
Elise’s heart pounded in her chest as she pressed a hand to her chest, unsure of how the duke truly felt about her. Despite the overwhelming desire to run her fingers over his lips, which she had longed for so desperately, she fought to resist the temptation.
It was the first time Elise had ever kissed a man, and the experience was far from the romantic and exhilarating encounter she had always imagined. Instead, it was a hot and suffocating affair, leaving her lips tingling with the memory of the fleeting sensation.
“That concludes the ceremony,” the archbishop declared, effectively putting an end to Elise’s first-ever wedding experience. While everything about the event was new to her, it had come and gone with a merciless swiftness that left her feeling almost shell-shocked.
The duke’s knights were scheduled to leave for their territories immediately. Noyer urged Rezette and Elise to enjoy even a feast before leaving, but Rezette refused outright.
“We have left the territory empty for a long time. Even if we leave now, it will take ten days by carriage, so we want to leave as soon as possible.”
Noyer had regained his appetite, but he did not hold them back any longer. He knew well that the princess would not be happy to stay here for too long.
Noyer greeted Elise with a slightly affectionate tone.
“Well, take care. Don’t make me regret saving you.”
The emperor’s greedy eyes fell on Elise’s flat belly. If he found out that nothing was growing in her womb, he would be so furious that he might even torture her himself.
I’ll die on the spot if the Emperor finds out, she thought. Elise’s heart chilled. She prayed earnestly that the Emperor would not visit Rotiara unexpectedly.
As they left the chapel, Rezette snatched a robe from a waiting maid and draped it over Elise’s shoulders.
Yanok Sihat was still staying in Van Yela. Rezette strongly refused to let him attend the wedding ceremony. However, the barbarians who refused to give up were camping in front of the chapel.
Rezette fastened the strings of Elise’s hood securely over her head.
“We must leave at once. Are you ready?” he asked.
“I’m ready,” Elise replied.
Her face was mostly obscured by the hood, with only her lips and chin visible, but Rezette couldn’t shake the feeling of unease. Her lips, pink and moist, hesitated before she spoke, but before Elise could voice her doubts, an unpleasant voice cut in.
“You noticed something was amiss, didn’t you? Did you know she’s a spy?”
Yanok Sihat strode towards them, poking at Rezette. Elise’s shoulders tensed as she recognized his voice.
Yanok still bore scars and swelling on his face from the night he had secretly visited the princess’s cell. In the darkness, an unknown assailant had broken his jaw, making his already ferocious appearance even more menacing.
“I heard that she’s carrying your child, Your Highness,” he sneered. “She’ll do anything to survive. Emperor Argan would be pleased. Don’t you think so?”
Elise retreated behind Rezette, but he pushed her towards Ruben. She instinctively clutched at his cloak, seeking safety. However, Rezette seized her wrist and pulled her away, causing Elise to whimper in pain.
“Ruben, escort her,” Rezette ordered.
“Yes, Your Highness.”
Ruben stepped forward and blocked Elizabeth and Yanok. Rezette motioned for the knights behind him to follow as Ruben ushered Elise towards the waiting carriage.
“Let’s go. We mustn’t delay any longer.”
Elizabeth halted in her tracks and hesitated. She knew she shouldn’t rely on anyone like a child, but her eyes followed Rezette, who seemed to be the safest person among those who were not on her side. However, the man who had pushed her away harshly didn’t glance back at her. Rezette stood firm until Elizabeth and the knights had vanished entirely. He hardly paid attention to Yanok’s meaningless chatter.
“Hmph, are you ignoring me?” Yanok’s eyes widened as he jabbed Rezette’s chest with his index finger. “Your Highness, did you marry that girl for a reason?”
“I know some things.”
“What do you know about Elizabeth Aseica? Did the princess tell you about why the Emperor of Argan favored his sister over himself?” Yanok probed tirelessly.