The ebony stallion wagged its tail with delight and affectionately nuzzled Elise’s hand. Elise’s face lit up with a wide smile as she gently caressed the horse, her voice filled with admiration.
“Despite his size, he possesses a gentle nature. Even when carrying a stranger upon his back, he remains composed and obedient.”
“Gentle, you say?”
The knights, who had been surreptitiously observing from afar, along with Ruben, could not conceal their astonishment. The stable boy, clutching a muzzle that he hadn’t yet placed on the horse, stood frozen, his face drained of color.
Only Elise remained composed, her demeanor unruffled.
“And what is the name of this horse?”
“Um, my lord did not bestow upon him a specific name.”
“I see… No name, then.”
Not even a common moniker for the horse that braved the battlefield alongside them. Such was to be anticipated.
“Gumdoong-ah,” Elise affectionately called out, causing the knights, including Ruben, to contort their faces in comical disbelief. The whimsical nickname she bestowed upon the horse, who effortlessly tossed off five riders, was as wild and unpredictable as the creature itself. Now, the princess treated him as if he were a playful pup.
Only the grand duke had managed to tame him, although “forcefully subdue” would be a more accurate description, using his transformed right arm. The memory of the duke twisting the horse’s head and asserting dominance with his altered form left the witnesses visibly pale.
“Well, you see, my lord’s words have a certain prophetic quality. Let’s see if he recognizes his master,” Elise remarked, her words prompting a reluctant acceptance from Ruben. After all, “Gumdoong-ah” was an endearing nickname that seemed unfitting for the mischievous troublemaker who had come close to being put down.
With a contented smile, Elise embraced the black horse, which responded with joyful neighs.
“Gumdoong-ah, when will your master come to see me?” she pondered aloud.
Disappointed that she had come all the way to the castle early in the morning, solely to catch a glimpse of that man, Elise couldn’t help but feel a tinge of regret. According to the unwritten rule, it was the one who regretted first who had to make a move. It seemed like a wasted effort to have sought him out in vain.
“Surely he doesn’t intend to leave me in this state,” Elise pondered, feeling the weight of their obligations. Their marriage had been bound by a contract, explicitly outlining their duties.
“He promised he wouldn’t resist when I attempted to capture him. Is he afraid to show himself because he fears I’ll hold him captive, like a prisoner in this lofty tower?” Elise entertained the idea, even though Rezette had never once curtailed her freedom. Blaming him seemed to alleviate her uneasiness.
Furthermore, as Elise ventured out, she realized something. The Rotiara Castle was brimming with beautiful women, and this fact troubled her immensely. With so many potential rivals, wasn’t there even one who had captured his heart?
Ruben, misinterpreting Elise’s contemplative expression, subtly made a suggestion. “If Your Highness truly feels bored, why not explore the territory? Shall I have Alfredo prepare a carriage?”
“It’s fine. Can I just borrow a horse?”
“Huh? Um, of course, you can ride any horse you desire, but… Are you going out?”
“Just for a leisurely stroll up to the hill in the backyard.”
As if understanding Elise’s words, Gumdoong-ah nudged his head eagerly. It was as if he was urging her to take him along. The sight of the horse prancing around, despite his size, was endearing, and it elicited laughter from Elise.
“Would you like to accompany me, even if just for half an hour?” Elise proposed, her voice filled with hope.
“You are not permitted to ride horses,” came the cold interjection.
Elise, who had been gently caressing the horse’s jaw, flinched. Tilting her head diagonally, she caught sight of a man who had approached from behind. As always, his prominent feature was his strong jawline, followed by his bluish crystal-like eyes devoid of warmth. His hair and collar were slightly disheveled.
A frigid voice resonated. “Isn’t it dangerous for the princess to ride alone?”
Silence lingered in the air.
“Of course, being in such close proximity to a warhorse like this is also…” Rezette reached for the reins that hung beneath the horse’s neck, as though he had caught them. The black horse pawed the ground, seemingly greeting its master. With a firm and sharp voice, Rezette pushed Elise back with his arm.
“It is dangerous.”
It was the first time in a solid week that she had heard his voice so clearly. For some reason, he appeared more composed than usual. The exhale at the end of his short statement was rough, enough to unsettle Elise.
The shy joy she had timidly expressed with her head dropped as if it were a falsehood. She hadn’t anticipated a warm greeting, but she hadn’t expected an immediate reprimand either.
Reluctantly, Elise responded, “I didn’t realize that riding would be inappropriate. I apologize.”
“It’s not about being careful for my sake, but for Your Highness’s,” Rezette sternly replied.