For a month and a half, Elise had been dragged about, and confined for five excruciating days. In her battered state, there wasn’t a single inch of her flesh that wasn’t sore, and she would have typically been down and out for a whole month. Even the slightest movement would make her ankles twist, and any abrasions would take weeks to mend. Her constitution was peculiar indeed.
With a twitch of her wrist, Elise withdrew her hand from beneath her robe and gazed at her bare wrist. Upon her initial release from the handcuffs, a prominent red bruise marked her wrist bone. Ten days had since elapsed, and now, the bruise had faded to a yellow hue. Though still somewhat discolored, it had nearly vanished.
Rezette, perched overhead, let out a gentle sigh. “The bruise is still there,” he murmured.
Elise was taken aback. “It’s still there? This is the first time it’s ever disappeared so swiftly.”
“What?” Rezette’s brow furrowed.
“Just ten days…” A sudden recollection of Andrei’s voice drifted into her mind. “You’ll recover,” he had said.
That’s right, Elise thought. He did mention something like that when we parted ways.
She assumed it was simply words of encouragement or advice, that she could continue to live her life even after her ordeal in Argan. But was it not? A glimmer of hope shone in Elise’s eyes.
Perhaps I can finally break out of this shell of a body…
The plans that Elise had tirelessly crafted by herself glimmered with promise. For a time, she was so consumed by her musings that she belatedly realized that the conversation had lapsed into an uneasy silence. “Oh, I apologize,” she said, “I’ve never experienced anything like this before, so it’s all rather fascinating.”
“You really…” Rezette trailed off.
“What?” Elise inquired.
“Nothing,” he muttered, suppressing a thought that threatened to spill forth. He was astounded by how fragile humans could be, reduced to such a state by mere handcuffs. Ten days had already elapsed, and that was it? He had endured much worse. The doctor’s diagnosis surfaced in his mind again—Elise’s pulse scarcely registered as that of a living person.
“Shall we rest?” he suggested.
“Ah, would you like me to return to the carriage?” Elise asked.
“No. I mean, would you like to pause and relax in a nearby village for a bit?”
“I’m alright, but if you’re feeling tired, then we can do that…” Elise’s words trailed off, and the conversation took a peculiar turn.
“What?” Rezette’s head swam with confusion. In his entire life, no one had ever asked him, “Are you tired?”
As Elise realized her error belatedly, Rezette struggled to find a response. “I’m really fine,” she assured him. “But if resting would be better, I’ll let you know. I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you if I were to collapse from exhaustion.”
But even as the words left her lips, they felt inadequate. An inconvenience…
Rezette struggled to decipher how he should respond to the princess’s words. Was she oblivious to her status as a princess? Rezette couldn’t fathom how someone who was surely raised with love and care could behave in such a peculiar way. Elise had a strange tendency to scrutinize other people’s expressions to an unnerving degree. As soon as she had assessed the disposition of those in positions of power and influence, she’d promptly assume a submissive stance with every word that she spoke.
It didn’t seem it was simply because of Argan’s failure and owed him debt. Her reassurances seemed to stem from some habitual behavior, rather than any specific person or event. Perhaps she’d never encountered anyone beyond the confines of the palace walls, Rezette mused. If she’d been cooped up in her quarters at Argan Palace, cut off from the outside world, it was plausible.
The princess’s body was emaciated, her bones jutting out against her skin. It was hard to believe that anyone would think she was carrying a child inside that frail frame. Rezette suppressed a sigh and tightened his grip on her waist.
The princess, who had spent her entire life behind the fortified walls of her palace, was now a captive, taken by the enemy and forced to traverse the length of the continent to a foreign land. She had suffered imprisonment, barely escaped death with a clever deception, and even endured a farcical marriage. Now, she was journeying east to Rotiara.