The duke guided her through the castle’s entrance, and Alfred, quick to approach, offered a courteous welcome to the couple.
“Welcome to Rotiara, Your Highness, Princess,” Alfred introduced himself with a polite bow. “I am Alfred Bercan, the steward overseeing Rotiara Castle. Should you encounter any discomfort during your stay, please don’t hesitate to summon me.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” came the Princess’s soft yet distinct voice. The duke leaned in, whispering something to her.
“Speak freely,” he urged.
“Oh, alright,” she replied.
The princess of Argan appeared demure and obedient, in contrast to the grandeur surrounding her.
“I entrust her to you,” the duke addressed Alfred.
“Yes, Your Highness,” Alfred responded, his voice filled with deference.
As he attempted to regain his composure after the bow, Alfred’s gaze inadvertently caught a glimpse of the woman’s face, partially concealed by the hood. His mouth hung open involuntarily, his astonishment palpable.
“Alfred, snap out of it,” the master’s blunt warning jolted him back to reality. Without it, he might have remained frozen in that awkward pose indefinitely. Alfred swiftly composed himself.
“I-I apologize,” he stammered, seeking to regain his professional demeanor.
However, the duke had already shielded the princess from prying eyes, leaving Alfred to cast a disappointed glance at the curious onlookers. How could anyone resist being captivated by a woman whose beauty was as enchanting as a precious gem, if not more?
Rezette led Elise into the castle with a calm demeanor, offering explanations along the way.
“Take off your cloak and have a look around the castle. The bedroom is located at the top of the main tower, but if you find it inconvenient to go up and down, I can arrange a separate room on the lower floors,” he suggested.
“I think… I’ll manage,” Elise replied, her gaze fixed on the looming silhouette of the dark main tower. She momentarily struggled to find the right words.
Rotiara Castle boasted a distinct structure, different from the Argan Palace. Its formidable appearance leaned more towards that of a fortress than a typical castle.
“The castle has faced frequent invasions from neighboring countries. As a safety measure, it’s common for the lord’s bedroom to be situated at the top of the main tower,” Rezette explained. Elise caught glimpses of numerous stairs through the windows lining the outer wall of the tower, a visual testament to their abundance. The sight left her feeling overwhelmed by the tower’s imposing grandeur, yet she summoned the courage to respond confidently.
“I should climb up at least once to get a feel for it,” Elise declared.
“Please, be my guest,” Rezette acquiesced, not objecting further.
“In that case, we can explore from below and gradually make our way up…” he began, but his words were swiftly interrupted.
“No, you should attend to your duties,” she asserted firmly. “Aren’t you busy?”
“Excuse me?” Rezette raised an eyebrow.
“I noticed you were receiving reports from the knights. The Ugel attack and the matters concerning the territory. It seems like you have a significant backlog to address, so there’s no need to worry about me,” Elise pointed out. She possessed the capability to explore the castle independently. Rezette narrowed his eyes, an expression of dissatisfaction flickering across his face.
“It’s wise to familiarize yourself with the castle’s layout to avoid getting lost and accidentally stumbling upon the underground dungeon. Once you’re in there, finding your way out becomes quite the challenge,” Rezette advised.
“In that case, I can seek assistance from Ruben. I can also have Ivetsa by my side,” Elise proposed, considering her options.
“Ruben failed to adequately protect you, Your Highness,” Rezette responded, his concern interfering with her thoughts. Elise couldn’t help but feel puzzled.
“But this is your own castle. Is it truly unsafe?” she inquired, genuinely curious.
“Indeed, the external risks are not of significant concern. However, aren’t there others in the castle who are unaware of Your Highness’s arrival? It becomes inconvenient to have individuals who lack prior knowledge attending to your needs,” Rezette explained.
“That’s precisely why I should start learning from now on. I can’t always rely on the knights. I thought exploring the castle would only take a few hours,” Elise expressed her determination.
“Which is precisely why I’m perplexed by your worry over such trivial matters…” Rezette’s voice carried a tinge of frustration.
“I don’t wish to burden you with trivial matters. I mean…” Elise’s words trailed off, the conversation slowly escalating into a clash of wills. Alfred, Sobeul, and Petisson exchanged subtle glances. The master had always possessed a stubborn nature, and it appeared that the newly acquired mistress was equally unyielding.
“I’ve mentioned this before, but there are things I can handle on my own as well. If it truly bothers you…” Elise began, sending a pleading look towards the onlookers.
“I will seek assistance from the steward or the chamberlain,” she concluded, her eyes filled with a plea for understanding.
Alfred, still in a half-dazed state, suddenly snapped back to reality.
“I will accompany you, Your Highness,” he offered without hesitation.
Seizing the opportunity, the princess swiftly released the duke’s hand, oblivious to Rezette’s gaze fixed upon her empty palm. She turned to Alfred, seeking a favor.
“I simply wish to take a brief tour of the main tower before retiring to my room. Is that permissible?” she inquired.
“Of course, Your Highness. I will also introduce the maids who will be at your service,” Alfred replied promptly.
“Thank you. Then I shall proceed ahead, Duke,” Elise said.
Rezette’s displeasure still lingered on his face as he reluctantly advised, “Don’t push yourself too hard.”
“No need to worry,” Elise reassured him.
“Alfred, show her around for approximately thirty minutes, and then escort her directly to the bedroom where the physician will be present,” Rezette instructed.
“Yes, Your Highness,” Alfred acknowledged, ready to fulfill his duties. However, Elise’s expression soured at the mention of a physician. Another medical examination?
The persistent coldness that had plagued her for days after her fall into the lake had now vanished, as if washed away by the treatments Rezette had administered whenever he had the chance. While Elise herself did not perceive her health to be in a dire state, it seemed that the duke held a different opinion.
“Now that we have arrived in Rotiara, the physician will prepare new medications for you. If there are any herbs that do not agree with you, it is crucial that you inform the physician without fail,” Rezette emphasized.
“I understand, Duke. That’s enough for now. Rest assured, I will keep it in mind, so you need not worry any longer,” Elise responded.
Alfred, who had been attentively observing the situation, tactfully intervened.
“Shall we proceed, Your Highness?” he suggested.
Elise swiftly followed Alfred’s lead, eager to escape any further confrontations before even having the chance to explore the castle. She had no energy left to spare for additional conflicts.
Rezette, on the other hand, found it difficult to divert his gaze from her retreating form. Sobeul cautiously approached him, choosing his words carefully.
“Wouldn’t it be wise for you, Your Highness, to detoxify and have a meal in the study? Alfred and Lady Petisson can join you.”
“Address her differently,” Rezette retorted firmly.
“Pardon?” Sobeul expressed his confusion.
“Refer to her as Princess. She won’t be confined to the position of Duchess for long,” Rezette declared, his tone leaving no room for argument.
With that abrupt statement, Rezette turned away from the castle, leaving behind a sense of intrigue. It was a peculiar command that concealed its true intent. Why would he, after their solemn vows as a married couple, forbid her to be addressed as a duchess?