“Naturally, I hold a curiosity about the true nature of that man during the night. Yet, I’m unwilling to jeopardize my existence for a fleeting moment of indulgence. I have no desire to bring a child into this world just to meet my demise. So, your presence, to be honest, isn’t exactly pleasant to me. Instead, I find it rather amusing,” Genovia chuckled softly.
Elise’s breath grew shallower with each passing moment. Eventually, Genovia mustered her strength to steady Elise’s faltering form.
“However, the crux of the matter is this: Your Highness, do not dismiss me so readily. The dominion you once held over this world has waned,” Genovie seethed.
“As times have changed, even the descendants of Gallian who have lost their connection with the heavens might find purpose when circumstances demand.”
A sudden realization dawned on Elise. She hadn’t removed Genovia’s mask; rather, Genovia had deliberately cast it aside. This woman had never harbored intentions of simply meeting with Elise, right from the outset. Her motive was intimidation all along. Caught in this intricate web, Elise’s agency had been stripped away, her options reduced to naught.
“Hence, silence your lips and set your clever mind to the task of capturing the Duke’s affections. Shed that air of arrogance, that demeanor of looking down upon a servant tending to your footwear, as was the case earlier.”
The weight of Genovia’s words pressed heavily, as if casting off barks from a distant, insignificant dog.
“Is that understood, Your Highness?”
Elise found herself gazing into the depths of Genovia’s green eyes, glimpsing a hint of a maddening fervor concealed within.
“Well then, it’s been a delightful chat. Elizabeth, I’ll see you tomorrow, alright?” Genovia released her grip on Elise. Only after she had retreated, humming a tune, did Elise stumble and collapse against the wall.
“What in the world just happened?” Elise muttered, her lips now a pallid shade of blue, trembling with regret. As soon as Rezette Kyrstahn departed, the tranquility vanished once more, as though it had been a mere illusion.
Now, more people were privy to her secrets. Herself and Rezette, Ivetsa and Freya, and the ladies-in-waiting…
“Your Highness, Your Highness!” Ivetsa urgently seized Elise’s shoulders and shook her, concern etched across her face, as the office had been eerily silent.
“Why is your complexion so…! Your Highness, please, come back to us!” Her head was ringing with intensity. Elise brushed her clammy, sweat-drenched forehead and lowered her gaze. Her vision warped and tilted.
Before long, darkness swallowed everything before her. Elise had no recollection of what occurred next.
When Elise eventually regained consciousness, it was dawn, and before her stood Andrei, his expression one of anger. He appeared translucent, perhaps a phantom or a ghost. His right eye was missing, and half of his right arm was severed. There was no mistaking it.
Andrei approached Elise, who lay on the bed, and gently shook her.
“Elizabeth, where are you right now…?”
Elise couldn’t fathom why the spectral figure in her dream had uttered those words. She weakly closed her eyes, and upon waking again, the dream from the previous night eluded her memory.
Since the arrival of Genovia Irrien, Elise’s life had undergone a profound transformation. It was the first time Elise had come to the stark realization that one cannot reason with a woman as unhinged as Genovia.
After an entire day of unconsciousness, Elise awoke to find a request from Genovia Irrien to meet with her. Such a demand was unfathomable in Argan. The audacious lady had boldly marched up to the princess’s residence and insisted on Elise’s immediate presence. Even though Elise had ascended to the position of a duchess, it remained an unacceptable situation.
“Your Highness, are you feeling well?” Lady Petisson examined Elise with a deeply concerned expression, her worry apparent.
Elise sat in the drawing room, absentmindedly gazing at a letter. After Lady Petisson had called her name several times, Elise finally snapped back to reality.
“What did you say?”
“It might be best, Your Highness, if you refrained from going downstairs today,” Lady Petisson repeated.
Elise lightly slapped her own cheek with the back of her hand. Her head was pounding, but her cheek felt oddly cool.
“I’ll inform Lady Irrien that you’re not feeling well,” Petisson added. “It’s not mere chatter; you genuinely appear unwell, Your Highness.”
“It’s not as though I’m incapable of going out,” Elise murmured.
“No need to overexert yourself. After all, the Duke will be returning soon. Lady Irrien can manage matters during his absence.”
“I’m merely offering my perspective because you appear quite distressed.”
“What am I supposed to do…?”
“Until the Duke returns, Genovia Irrien won’t be departing Rotiara. She can come and go as she pleases, but she won’t be leaving. The Duke will find a solution to this. So, why don’t you have a proper meal and rest today?”
She gazed vacantly at Rebecca Petisson. The lady nodded without displaying any emotion and then departed from the room.
She had anticipated it to some degree.
Petisson was the second individual Elise had frequently encountered, right after Ivetsa. Despite her mostly reclusive nature, she couldn’t have missed that Elise’s condition hadn’t improved since her arrival in Rotiara.
I always knew I couldn’t keep it hidden forever…
So now, there were five people privy to the secret.
Elise pushed herself to complete the final paragraph of the letter. Whether her head had ceased its relentless spinning since yesterday or if she simply found it arduous to pen even a few lines of a letter, she couldn’t discern.
She managed to wrap up the postscript and sealed the letter. After placing it on a silver tray, she turned it upside down on the table.
She longed for Andrei.