As Rezette ascended to the highest floor, he found Ivetsa and Freya stationed in the living room, their expressions stern and unwavering. A subtle signal passed between them through a silent exchange of glances. Ivetsa, her lips drawn tight, bowed deeply, and her footsteps ceased as she moved away.
The maid who had failed to properly greet her master deserved dismissal, according to tradition. However, this particular maid was the very one Elise had rescued from a perilous tumble out of a careening carriage, sparing her life.
Rezette released a deep sigh and shifted his attention to the bedroom, his heightened senses catching a faint noise. It was not the sound of slumber; was she awake?
Without hesitation, Rezette entered the bedroom.
The moonlight spilled softly through the uncovered window, casting an ethereal glow upon the motionless figure by the starlit pane. She was already sitting upright, her gaze fixed on the world outside, resembling a statue brought to life.
Their eyes locked, momentarily stealing Rezette’s words.
Silver hair, slightly disheveled, framed a face as delicate as pearls. Her lips, now bearing a touch of color thanks to Ivetsa’s warm towel and the restoration of her body’s warmth, were gently parted.
The air was suffused with the scent of blooming flowers, as if the garden of the night had absorbed the moonlight’s essence.
Elise blinked her large eyes a few times before breaking into a radiant smile. Her laughter, akin to the blossoming of white flowers, momentarily entranced even Rezette.
“Andrei,” she said.
In an instant, Rezette was snapped back to reality.
It was only then that a faint shimmer of magic materialized above Elise’s form. She clutched the sheets with both hands as she moved, her movements delicate, like a young animal struggling with an injured limb.
“Why did you come so late today?” Elise inquired. Had Ivetsa dressed her in fresh attire? She was adorned in a light nightgown, the fabric rustling as she shifted.
“I waited…” she murmured.
It was as if she regarded Rezette as someone else, lost in another dream. She whispered weakly, “I miss you.”
Rezette fell mute.
“Andrei, please take me…”
It was unlike her to want to see anyone when she was in pain. Rezette dispelled the translucent magic enveloping her body completely, erasing even the faintest traces of light. Only then did Elise’s murmurs begin to fade, her heavy eyelids fluttering.
“Your Highness,” Rezette repeated.
Only then did her hazy golden eyes regain focus. Rezette let out a frustrated sigh. Whenever he asked her to address him by his name, it was always during moments when she wasn’t in her right mind. That’s how he recognized her. Just like now.
Inexplicably, a faint smile graced Elise’s lips as she gazed at him, her eyes distant.
“Re…” Her voice trailed off.
He urged and coaxed her to repeat his name, but her muddled mind refused to return to its customary clarity.
Rezette resorted to gently lifting Elise’s drooping head, his touch firm yet tender.
“Who on earth do you need?” he murmured softly. “What do you need, Elizabeth?” Tolerating the role of a mere substitute had its limits, and he had reached his.
“I…” Elise’s lips moved weakly.
“You mentioned that you needed me,” Rezette interrupted.
“Rezette, it hurts…”
It was only then that he realized his grip on her shoulders had been too tight
Rezette gradually released his grip, his touch tenderly relinquishing her.
“Then come here,” he softly invited.
Rather than letting go of her hand, he opened his arms, and she naturally nestled into his embrace. The elusive sense of contentment that had slipped through his fingers earlier now surged back with renewed vigor. A self-assured smile tugged at the corners of Rezette’s lips.
The tumultuous waves of emotion that had consumed him this evening were unlike any he had experienced before. They defied his usual mastery of self-control.
Reflecting on it, he realized that whenever Elise endured great suffering, his heart unfailingly fluttered uncontrollably, both for her and himself. It was a situation neither of them could afford.
Rezette’s hand traced a delicate path across her slender waist, journeying from her midsection to just before it tapered away. His fingers encountered a prominent ‘mark’ that adorned her waist. He had attempted to dispel it once, but the lingering magic persisted in that area.
Instinctively, Rezette had a sinking feeling that this mark was the underlying source of his discomfort.
“Your Highness,” Rezette called.
Elise responded weakly, “Yes…”
“Did the Emperor of Argan visit you in your dreams?” Rezette inquired.
Elise nodded faintly, a sign that slumber hadn’t entirely deserted her.
“What did you tell him? Can you remember?” Rezette prodded.
Elise’s continued silence prompted Rezette to call her name once more.
Her lips pressed tightly together, revealing her resolute determination not to broach the subject of Argan. Despite her clouded state of mind, her unwillingness to discuss him was crystal clear.