“The physician will be arriving soon. After a brief examination, I’ll have a servant summoned. So…”
He paused in his speech, as Elise clung to his neck, almost collapsing into his arms.
A soft murmur reached his ear.
“…I missed you.”
The man she held in her embrace stiffened momentarily. But in the end, he enveloped her with both arms, facing her. The comforting strength of his embrace was even more profound than usual, providing her with solace.
He murmured that he should have done this as soon as he saw her, but Elise struggled to grasp his words, her vision blurring. Darkness began to encroach from the edges of her sight. Whether she had already slipped into a dream or was hearing Andrei’s urgent cries from some distant place, she couldn’t discern.
“No, Elise. You can’t do this!”
Even as she clearly heard his voice, Elise couldn’t prevent the words from escaping her lips.
“I missed you…” she whispered faintly. “Next time, take me with you. I don’t want to be alone here…”
She didn’t fully comprehend what she had murmured. Those were the only words she managed to utter. Her body swayed and weakened, but Rezette swiftly provided support. Yet, before long, all sensation in her body abruptly faded away.
Elise descended into unconsciousness, as though she had fainted.
In the tense moment, all the servants who had been looking after the princess during the Duke’s ten-day absence knelt in the corridor outside his study. Despite claims that the Duke’s madness had subsided following a short punitive expedition, he appeared more vigilant than usual. Recognizing this, the Rotiara Castle servants were exceptionally cautious in their actions during this period.
However, on this occasion, it was proving challenging to pass unnoticed. The entire castle had fallen into an eerie silence as everyone anxiously awaited their master’s return.
Shortly after the Duke had accompanied the princess to her bedroom, the princess’s personal physician hastily ascended the tower. After some commotion, the Duke returned to his study, his expression alarmingly stern.
“Tell me everything that transpired in the castle during the ten days I was away,” he ordered.
Ivetsa, standing at the forefront, bowed and quivered. “Your Highness…”
As soon as the princess, who had been barely holding on, reached her bedroom, she lost consciousness. Ivetsa, accompanied by the court physician, Freya, rushed up to the top floor in haste, where they were met by the Duke, his face contorted in anguish.
Seeing how pale Elise appeared in his arms, Ivetsa almost feared the worst and nearly fainted herself.
The attending physician promptly conducted a thorough examination, determining that, aside from mild indications of anemia, there were no significant physical issues. The cause of her condition was attributed to severe emotional distress. Nevertheless, the Duke maintained his impassive expression.
“Has she ever fainted like this before, as she did today?” he inquired sternly.
“Yes. It happened the day after Lady Irrien’s arrival. They spent about half an hour together in the study, talking, and then…”
“She didn’t say anything, did she?”
Ivetsa paled, sensing the intensity radiating from Rezette. As soon as the Duke descended from the bedroom, his demeanor exploded with an intimidating presence. Dark, swirling magic was visible to the naked eye.
“The absence of any such information in the reports troubles me. How can you justify the fact that I have received no reports whatsoever?”
“Her Highness the Princess… She said she writes the reports herself… I apologize…” Ivetsa stammered.
Ivetsa, overwhelmed by the pressure, trembled.
Rezette let out an exasperated sigh. “Why has she lost so much weight in just ten days? That’s what I’m asking.”
What had transpired during his absence? Even if Elise remained silent, he could discern her change without her saying a word. Simply holding her once was enough. During the month of rest in Rotiara, her body had gradually returned to its original state, gaining a bit of weight.
Her already faint presence made him wonder if she was truly there when she didn’t respond, even when she was nearby. Especially when her eyes were closed, it was difficult to ascertain whether she was asleep, unconscious, or worse. In such instances, he had to forcefully rouse her to confirm.
Therefore, when she suddenly collapsed and didn’t respond to his calls and shakes, it was needless to say how deeply shocked he was.
Rezette disliked sensing that something was amiss with Elise. It had occurred multiple times before, and on each occasion, it felt as though his heart was sinking.
Petisson took over for Ivetsa, who was trembling uncontrollably.
“For the past week, she has barely touched her meals. She’s been unable to sleep. What’s more, even before this, her health wasn’t at its best. Yet, she’s been wandering the castle all day, grappling with emotional stress. It’s a wonder she hasn’t fallen ill.”