As she looked down at her own body, exposed before the foreign man, she couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all. Here she was, the princess of Argan, standing in front of the commander of the enemy army, looking as defenseless as a prostitute.
She was selling herself like a cheap commodity, while he was an honorable knight, upholding his dignity. Neither words nor seduction worked on him. She didn’t know if she should feel relieved or despairing. After all, she hadn’t had any expectations to begin with. All she could do was resign herself to the situation.
“I’ll just wash my hands and feet,” Elise whispered, her voice breaking through the silence. Her mind was racing with the implications of Rezette’s lengthy words. He had said it would be difficult to delay the schedule at his discretion this time.
Her heart began to beat quietly. Elise returned to the campfire after washing her hands and feet in the lake, still wrapped in Rezette’s cloak.
Even after returning, she spent some time thinking about his words.
And she had a little wish that maybe, just maybe, the man would forgive her for what she would do when they arrived in Van Yela.
After the incident at the lake, time passed quickly. Finally, a month and a half into March, Elise arrived in the mighty kingdom of Van Yela, located in the northwest of the continent.
As soon as the archduke’s troops crossed the drawbridge and entered the imperial castle, dark-skinned soldiers clad in exotic armor stood in their way.
“They’re from Ugel,” Ruben remarked with distaste. The Van Yela knights seemed intimidated by their presence. Ruben grabbed the reins of his horse and moved closer to Rezette. “That is Yanok Sihat, the fourth prince of Ugel,” he muttered. “I had no idea he would be coming here…”
Even Rezette’s normally stoic expression betrayed a moment of discomfort at the mention of Yanok Sihat’s name. He knew that Yanok had helped his older brother, the first prince, conquer the capital of Argan.
Van Yela had only sent reinforcements to Ugel, and the 10,000 strong army led by Rezette had dealt with Argan’s allies on the left wing. This meant that he had never met Ugel’s army, which had attacked the royal castle at the heart of Argan.
“Are you the Grand Duke of Kirstan?” Yanok Sihat grinned as he pointed his finger at Rezette. His torn lips revealed his yellow teeth. “I heard you caught the princess running away from Argan’s western border. Is that woman in that cart?” Rezette glanced back. The cart escorting the prisoners was covered with a bronze canopy, making it impossible to see inside. However, the cloth was too thin to conceal the conversations outside.
Elise was huddled inside the cart.
The glint of a bloody sword with a single edge flickered before Elise’s eyes. Just three months ago, barbarians wielding leather armor made from the tough hides of beasts had stormed through the gates of Argan, flooding in like a tidal wave.
They had hacked down Argan’s soldiers with their wide, curved swords, leaving no mercy in their wake. The captain of the royal guard of Argan had fallen to one of these threatening blades as he tried to help Elise escape.
The barbarians had slaughtered everyone in their path, from young servants to old. It was even possible that Andrei had met his end at the edge of one of these swords.
Elise’s body shook with fear and anger as she faced the enemy on the other side of the cloth.
“I went to great lengths to enter the royal palace of Argan just to see the face of the beautiful princess, but it seems she has already been taken away. I wasn’t the one who let her go, of course. I was told that I must see her beauty before I die, so this is quite disappointing. That’s why I asked the owner of Van Yela to kindly bring her to me, carefully and respectfully.” Yanok Sihat swayed towards the cart, his words causing Rezette’s expression to crumple slightly.
“Since the diplomat of a brother country has personally captured the princess, I will graciously accept her. Was she brought here safely?”
Elise glared at the bronze canopy covering the cart, as if she wanted to tear it open. Did the command of the emperor of Van Yela to bring her body safely mean that she was to be handed over to the barbarians alive? In the end, the emperor was no different from the Ugels.
If she was handed over to the Ugels so easily, her plan would be doomed before it even began. Elise gritted her teeth as the sound of clattering footsteps grew closer.
Yes, come. It would be better if you came and laid a hand on me!
As soon as an unwelcome finger touched her body, she would activate the magic engraved on her skin. If the prince of the enemy country was to be her companion in the afterlife, it wouldn’t be so bad. If death was her fate anyway, it was the most honorable way to go.
The rough, furry fist grabbed the bronze canopy covering the cart. Cold sunlight, filtering through the wool, invaded the dark interior of the cart. As the light passed through Elise’s slender body and shoulder, illuminating her tense jaw and clenched lips, a sound of clashing armor rang out right in front of her. A careless voice followed.
“Please step back.”