Rezette strode towards the carriage with urgency. He knocked on the door twice, but there was no response from within. With a sense of foreboding, he twisted the handle and pushed the door open.
For a moment, he feared she had collapsed again. His heart skipped a beat, but gradually settled back into its place.
The princess was dozing off, leaning her head slightly against the window.
Her long and silvery hair was loosely braided to one side. The curves of her closed eyes were innocent, like those of a young girl, and her slightly parted lips were defenseless.
True to her reputation, the woman possessed a certain kind of poison. A lethal poison that affected both the possessor and the victim alike.
The cacophony from outside flooded into the carriage as the door swung open, startling Elise awake.
“What’s going on?” she asked, bewildered at the sight of Rezette.
Rezette’s silence only deepened her unease, and Elise straightened herself up, hastily smoothing out her tousled hair. “When you’re silent like this, it makes me anxious. If there’s something you want to say…” she trailed off.
“The sun isn’t very strong today,” Rezette finally spoke up.
“What?” Elise frowned, caught off guard by his comment.
“If you stay cooped up inside the carriage all the time, you’ll fall ill. How about riding a horse?” His words were not a mere suggestion, but a statement of intent. Rezette extended his hand towards Elise, who blinked at it blankly, unsure of how to react.
“If I go outside… the atmosphere might not be pleasant,” Elise hesitated, her reputation and the potential repercussions of her actions weighing on her mind.
“That’s not something you need to worry about, Your Highness. Please come out,” Rezette’s tone was resolute, and he seemed determined to pull her out of the carriage then and there, despite her reservations.
As Elise hesitated, her hand extended toward him, he seized her with a firm grip that caused her hand to sting. She had no choice but to disembark from the carriage, facing his warhorse that she recognized from before.
“It’s best if you cover your head,” he said.
She swept her hair to one side and put on the hood, but Rezette didn’t think it was enough. He yanked the hood down, covering her nose and dimming her view. He always made sure to shield Elise’s face like this.
“Even on overcast days, you never know when the sun will strike.”
“But I can’t see anything now,” she said.
“I’ll guide you. Just stay put.”
Rezette grasped Elise’s hand as she attempted to adjust her hood, then quickly hoisted her up onto the horse’s back, positioning her sideways.
As Rezette mounted the horse, it rocked, and Elise wobbled, unable to steady herself. He held her firmly and gave the horse a gentle nudge with his heel, the sound of hooves striking the earth echoed as they moved.
In that moment, a gust of wind swept by, blowing back Elise’s hood. Finally, she could gaze around and take in the passing scenery.
Though the sun wasn’t blistering, the day was hot as they wound their way through the craggy cliffs of the mountain range. Verdant greenery stretched out in every direction, but below the western cliffs lay a colossal lake that shimmered in the sunlight.
The previous knights were no longer in sight, as Rezette and Elise now led the pack. Rezette slowed his horse’s pace, and Elise grew anxious, looking around for any indication of delay.
“Are we taking too long?” she asked.
Naturally, if the horse leading the procession slowed down, the entire group would follow suit. Elise tried to peer back at the rear of the group, but the man’s body obstructed her view.
After a while, Rezette noticed Elise struggling in his arms and spoke up.
“The road is steep, so we won’t be able to move too quickly. The terrain is rugged too.”
“I see. That’s fortunate,” Elise said, letting out a sigh of relief. She realized that she had not taken the time to properly prepare her appearance. She clumsily ran her fingers through her hair, feeling the need to present herself as best as she could in front of Rezette. For some reason, she always felt inadequate in his presence.
Softly, Rezette spoke, “If you want to turn back, just say the word. I won’t mind.”
Elise quickly replied, “It’s really okay. I’m not lying. I just prefer being indoors than out. In Argan, I spent most of my time in the bedroom, so…”
“I wonder why the Princess of Argan was restricted to the palace,” Rezette said, puzzled.
Elise clarified, “I wasn’t confined. I just kept falling ill whenever I spent too much time outside.” No one had locked her in her room; the only culprit who had bound her was none other than her own frail body.
Elise scanned the verdant surroundings with a distant, dreamy expression. “Sometimes, I used to take walks in the garden with my younger brother. Those were special days, I remember being excited from morning.”
“Today feels like another special day…” she trailed off.
Rezette remained silent, a habit Elise had grown accustomed to during their conversations. When he didn’t feel the need to respond, he remained quiet. However, she could feel his arms tighten around her waist, indicating that he was listening.
“I don’t know why, but it’s strange. I feel perfectly fine,” she murmured to herself.