“Not only the scattered Argan people but also the allied nations in the south are all abuzz with it, my Lord. It’s quite audacious to suggest that our Princess is held captive by the uncivilized and ruthless northerners.”
Over a month could pass before news from the southern lands reached this distant place, and Rezette harbored no concern for the rumors that might be circulating there. He paid little heed to those who might covet what was rightfully his.
With an unwavering sense of his own power, Rezette knew there was not a soul in Grandel who could best him. What was his, he believed, was beyond the reach of any would-be claimant. Yet, a lingering doubt nagged at him.
What if Elise were to discover the truth?
Silently, Rezette ascended the staircase, leaving the study far below. As he climbed, his foot caught on an object—a discarded robe, unmistakably hers.
Picking up the robe, he continued his ascent. Before long, he arrived at the top.
From this vantage point, a slender beam of light spilled into the chamber, casting an otherworldly glow. Accompanying the light was the sound of someone weeping.
“Ivetsa, I was right…”
Rezette faltered for a brief moment, the realization dawning upon him.
“I must heed the call, no matter when, no matter how…”
At that moment, it all became clear to him.
“Do you think you can find happiness, loving and being loved?”
The question of love had always felt extravagant to him, a realm he had never dared to wish for or dream of. Yet, there was one thing he did long for, just that…
“Does Elise know that you’re that kind of person?”
He couldn’t bear the thought of Elise fleeing.
From the very moment he first laid eyes on the princess, a seed of emotion had taken root deep within the recesses of his heart, and it had grown with alarming rapidity, nurtured by desire. It was not a mere admiration or yearning; it transcended worship or any other sentiment.
It was an all-consuming craving, an insatiable hunger to possess her, to keep her for himself. Yet, beneath all these tumultuous desires, there lingered a profound fear that none of them might ever be realized.
Thus, the whirlwind of unfamiliar emotions swirled within him—fear, terror, anxiety, impatience—all foreign and overwhelming.
Rezette gradually sensed a new presence.
The door, which Elise had just slipped through, swung open noiselessly. A weighty presence began to envelop her, prompting Elise to take a slow, steadying breath. Her heart danced with an irregular rhythm.
With a touch as gentle as one might use to soothe a frightened mouse, Elise gingerly pushed aside Ivetsa’s trembling shoulders.
“It’s all right now, Ivetsa,” she whispered reassuringly. “Please go outside.”
“I… Your Highness,” Ivetsa stammered, the form of address she employed leaving room for interpretation, a detail that did not escape Elise’s notice. The maid, who had been peeking over Elise’s shoulder, emitted a soft, choked sound.
But before Elise could withdraw her hand, a powerful grip seized her, yanking her backward with force.
Elise gasped, her body ensconced by strong arms, and the man holding her buried his face into her pale neck. Her very being quivered from the unfamiliar pressure.
“Leave,” his voice resounded with a strangely low, commanding tone. “No one is permitted in this bedroom without my consent.”
Ivetsa staggered back, and as her gaze locked with the Duke’s, she was met with a chilling gleam in his eyes.
In his arms, the princess appeared fragile and delicate, like a sacrificial lamb on the brink of being consumed by a ravenous beast. In that instant, Ivetsa comprehended the depth of the situation.
You know everything, don’t you? You know who the Princess went out with tonight, what she witnessed, and the choices she’s made, she silently accused.
He heard it all, she confirmed.
From the very moment the princess had filled her heart with hope and forged a new purpose for her life, the Duke had been aware. Ivetsa could only imagine how he might react in such circumstances.
The duke, it seemed, had forgotten Ivetsa’s very presence, his focus captured by the scent of the princess. His grip on the loosely tied sash around her waist lingered, and when Elise called out to him with a trembling voice, he remained unresponsive. His actions left no room for doubt regarding his intentions.
Driven by an indefinable force, Ivetsa swiftly turned on her heels. She made her way to the door with haste, as if pursued, yet her steps faltered just in front of it.
Could she truly leave them alone at this moment?
Elizabeth, at times, revealed a childlike innocence, and she might not fully grasp the gravity of the situation that had unfolded tonight. Coincidentally, a faint, bewildered whimper emanated from behind, not one of pleasure, but of confusion.