“Hold on tight,” Rezette said.
“Hold on? To what…”
Before Elise could even finish her sentence, he suddenly picked her up in his arms. Elise gasped in surprise, her arms involuntarily wrapping around his neck as she was lifted off the ground.
But the contact was brief, and soon Elise found herself perched atop his horse. The higher vantage point made her head spin slightly. His horse was much larger and sturdier than the one she had ridden in the Imperial City.
“Thank you… I guess.”
But I can ride a horse on my own, at least, Elise thought to herself. Just as Elise found the reins and grabbed them, the horse trembled underneath her. She turned around in surprise and found herself pressed against the hard chest of someone wearing thin armor. The duke had mounted on the horse behind her.
“You need to watch where you’re going, Your Highness,” he said. Elise’s face heated up with embarrassment. Did he see her as such a weakling who couldn’t even ride a horse alone? Of course, her skills were limited at best.
Before she could fully process the unexpected situation, the duke’s large hand enveloped hers, taking control of the reins. “Allow me,” he said. Elise was at a loss for words. The hand that held the reins felt rough, but also warm.
It was clear to Elise that she may have misunderstood this man’s habits a bit. She waited patiently on top of the horse as he prepared to lower her down, wondering if he saw her as someone who couldn’t even walk properly on her own.
“Please wrap your arms around my neck,” he said.
Elise didn’t see the need to go into such detail unless it was really necessary. However, she didn’t want to show off the strength of her legs to him specifically, so she obediently wrapped her arms around him, and her feet touched the ground in no time.
“We will be camping here for the night. Please wait while I make arrangements for a place for you to rest,” the duke said.
“I can just rest anywhere, it’s fine,” Elise replied.
“If you sit in a cold place and then the temperature rises again, it will delay our journey,” the duke explained.
However, each time he spoke in such a cold tone, the excitement that had been slowly building inside her disappeared like melting snow.
After tucking Elise under his cloak and settling her onto a comfortable rock, the duke began giving orders to his knights. Elise felt the gaze of the soldiers as she fiddled with the duke’s cloak. She had been trained to never avoid the gaze of nobles or commoners, so she met their eyes without any hesitation. However, the soldiers quickly looked away, not just one, but several of them simultaneously.
Elise frowned, but none of the many soldiers tried to meet her eyes again. Was her face dirty? Elise wiped her sweaty cheek. Maybe she looked sickly, as she had been bedridden for weeks.
It just so happened that the duke was away for a long time and had many instructions for his attendants today. Elise stood up from her seat and listened to the faint sound of water. She was about to move towards the sound, which was coming from deeper in the forest, when a sharp voice stopped her.
Elise turned around in surprise. The duke was quickly approaching her, having sensed her movement.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
Elise’s shoulders tensed slightly at the sense of superiority coming from the difference in their heights and builds. She tightly grabbed the duke’s flowing cloak and mumbled quietly.
“I thought there might be a lake inside the forest. Can I wash my body there?”
The duke’s blue eyes narrowed slightly as he looked at her intently, trying to gauge her intentions. It would be unexpected for a prisoner to suddenly act out without any guards to watch over them.
“I will accompany you,” said the duke.
“What?” Elise was taken aback. “You’re going to accompany me to wash my body?”
The duke responded so indifferently that it wasn’t just Elise who was surprised. Elise witnessed the duke’s direct knight, whose name was Ruben, gape in shock. But that wasn’t all. All the gazes looking at them were filled with meaning.
Elise shook her head to clear her thoughts. This was an opportunity, an opportunity to seem to have an intimate relationship with Rezette Kyrsatan. Not bad, she thought. It would also be good to show as many people as possible that they were leaving alone. Even this time, it was Rezetter who grabbed her first, not the other way around.
Elise nodded her head as she quickly organized her thoughts. “Alright, you can accompany me,” she said.
The faces of the knights who had been watching with bated breath showed an unparalleled shock.