Rezette’s discontent was palpable, but he didn’t push the issue and conceded. “Well, I’ll be behind if you need me.” Elise simply nodded in response and scurried off behind a screen, as if she was evading some invisible foe.
Steam wafted upwards from the prepared bathtub, casting a hazy veil over the room. Elise unclasped her robe and cautiously stepped into the water, revealing her nakedness in the translucent liquid. The warmth of the water embraced her, tenderly holding her body in its gentle caress, and she couldn’t help but feel grateful for the fact that her skin was unblemished. It was a stroke of luck; if she was still the same as she was in Argan, she feared her limbs would have been severed from the incident. The mere thought of it made her shiver involuntarily.
Raising her right arm, she scrutinized the inside of her forearm, noticing that the protective magic circle was gone without a trace. Perhaps it had vanished naturally after the barrier was destroyed, which had been put in place to safeguard the soldiers. But she was sure she had sensed the barrier reestablish itself as she submerged herself in the water. It was almost as if a powerful force had been tugging her down to the lake’s bottom. Was it just her imagination?
A similar incident had taken place before when she was held captive by the Ban Yella army. A knight named Roderick had attempted to r*pe her, and an unknown power had emerged, taking his life in an instant.
The voices of Prince Ugel and Andrei echoed in her mind, overlapping with each other like a haunting echo.
“Don’t you know that your emperor took my sister and gave all her power to you?”
“You will recover.”
The accusations and the promise of healing clashed in her head, leaving her feeling vulnerable and confused. “What have you done to me, Andrei?” Elise muttered under her breath, her eyes closing involuntarily.
The once-warm water had turned tepid, jolting Elise out of her reverie. With a start, she clambered out of the tub, reminded of the fact that someone was waiting outside. As she wrapped herself in a fluffy towel, she noticed that a set of fresh clothes had been placed outside the tub—a luxurious, silky nightgown.
Elise fumbled as she dressed herself, when Rezette appeared from behind the screen, as if he knew she was ready. He must have been waiting for her all along, despite enough time having passed for her to enjoy a leisurely soak in the water.
She was dragged back into his arms, just like before.
For a few days, the Rotiara army – led by none other than the grand duke and the princess herself – took shelter in the small village. They were now slightly over halfway to their destination, and Elise couldn’t help but worry about the impact of the delay on their schedule.
But before she could voice her concerns, Rezette interjected, cutting her off. “We’ve dispatched scouts to the nearby forests and mountain paths. We’ll proceed at a slower pace until we reach Rotiara, giving Your Highness ample time to recuperate.”
This was no ordinary scuffle between individuals. With Ugel’s use of poisoned arrows against Van Yela’s army, tensions between the Northern Federation nations had reached an all-time high. It was unthinkable for member countries to take up arms against each other, and yet Ugel had blatantly violated this unspoken rule by attacking Emperor Van Yela’s brother, who was merely returning to his own territory.
Rezette was incensed by Ugel’s actions and had wasted no time in ordering the execution of Ugel soldiers, including Prince Yanok Sihat. The imperial city of Van Yela was undoubtedly in chaos by now. In fact, the gravity of the situation was such that it warranted an immediate meeting of the federation nations.
Compared to these events, the minor delay in their itinerary paled in comparison.
Meanwhile, Elise was in the process of understanding Rezette’s assurance that she no longer needed to worry about unexpected attacks in the future. It seemed that he had chosen to stay by her side as her protector. She half-layed on the bed and glanced at the man who sat close to her.
Elise lay on the bed, observing Rezette as he sat beside her, poring over reports and letters. She wondered when he slept, for she had never seen him doze off. During their stay at the inn, he never came to her bedside. Instead, he brought a chair next to her bed and busied himself with his work. Even letters from the emperor of Van Yela that had come to the inn found their way to Rezette’s hands, and he replied to them without much care.
He doesn’t care about the Emperor’s mood, she mused. Not wanting to be caught peeking at confidential documents from another country, Elise discreetly turned her head away and found herself contemplating on Rezette’s promise. It seemed Rezette had chosen to stay by her side as her protector, assuring her that she need not worry about any unexpected attacks in the future.