Rezette settled Elise onto the plush bed and leaned in close, his face as unreadable as a mask. Elise couldn’t help but scrutinize him, noticing the subtle nuances of his expressionlessness. Her voice trembled as she spoke, unsure of what she might have done to cause such a reaction.
“If…if you’re angry,” she stammered, her mind racing to recall any recent missteps.
Elise’s heart quickened as she searched for the source of Rezette’s possible anger, grasping at him as if he might disappear if she let go. She considered the recent deployment of the defensive barrier, wondering if it had caused any unintended harm to their army.
Her thoughts drifted to a nagging worry, and she swallowed hard before summoning the courage to speak.
“Rezette,” she whispered, her throat tight with anxiety. Were there any casualties?” she asked, her voice barely audible above the sound of her ragged coughs.
“There were no casualties,” Rezette finally replied, and Elise let out a sigh of relief.
Though her maid and two servants had suffered minor injuries, she was grateful that the damage had been limited. She nestled back into the plush pillows, feeling the heat seep out of her skin as her fear abated.
“Then…that’s a relief,” she muttered.
“I’m not sure what’s fortunate,” Rezette retorted.
“I was worried that someone might have been sacrificed because of me. This attack was clearly aimed at me…” A cough erupted from Elise, shattering her thoughts, and she instinctively reached for him, but the memory of his callous rejections played over and over again in her mind. Her hand fluttered aimlessly, grasping at the air before finally settling on the collar of her own robe. She chided herself for appearing so foolish in front of him, wondering how many more times she would stumble and fall at his feet.
“Ugel clearly had his sights set on me,” she said firmly. “I want to apologize because he almost made an unnecessary sacrifice because of me.”
She refused to show any more pathetic behavior. She had just fought for her life, after all. Surely she had the right to care about her dignity as well.
“It’s fortunate that no one was seriously hurt, but there’s no guarantee that something similar won’t happen again in the future. I have nothing to say. Nevertheless, it wasn’t intentional, so don’t be too angry,” she continued.
As Elise tried to justify herself, Rezette silenced her with a gentle touch, placing her hand on his chest, on the same exact spot she had hesitated to grab earlier. His body heat pulsed through her skin, and she looked up in surprise, catching a suppressed sigh escaping his lips.
“I’m not angry,” he said, his expression resembling the one he wore in the palace when he was upset with her.
Rezette chose his words carefully, “I can’t afford to be in that position right now. I don’t know why you hold me in such high regard…”
“We should clarify things at this point,” Rezette said, his voice firm. “Don’t apologize to me. Your Highness doesn’t need to apologize or receive apologies from me.”
“You made a contract with me,” Rezette continued. “We agreed to give and take things of equal weight. So, you should rightfully take everything that I give you. You don’t need to hesitate or feel sorry. That’s more comfortable for both of us. If you keep doing this, I…” He trailed off, leaving the rest unsaid.
Elise stared at him, her eyes widened in surprise, like a rabbit caught in the headlights.
Rezette realized, with a sharp jolt, that he had been lamenting too loudly. He took a deep breath and gathered himself, his thoughts churning. “Ensuring the safety of Her Majesty was the main content of the contract. So this incident is entirely my fault. I apologize,” he said, his grip on Elise’s hand tightening.
His other hand still lingered beneath her waist, the heat of his fingers seeping through his body. His own dark blue eyes were so deep that they seemed to weigh on Elise’s very soul.
“I shouldn’t have left it in someone else’s hands,” he muttered, his voice low. Rezette regretted his decisions, a rare occurrence.
Rezette had always been at the forefront of battles, the point where he stepped forward marking the beginning of the defensive line. He had never put anyone else in front of him, always taking charge and leading by example. But he had misjudged this time, and he regretted it deeply.
He had foolishly given in to an impulsive urge to step away from the front line, putting someone else in charge of Elise’s safety. It was a mistake he would never make again, and one he couldn’t help but beat himself up over.
Looking back, he realized he had been obsessed with belittling Yanok Sihat, the man he had killed. Despite having no interest in the Kingdom of Ugel or its people, he had swung his sword in Yanok’s direction because of the woman before him.
Ugel’s obsession with Elise had always been a thorn in Rezette’s side, and he couldn’t stand to see her being insulted or belittled. He had even entertained the thought of seeing her carriage fall off a cliff, a contradictory thought that he couldn’t reconcile.