Chapter 84.1

Elise met Rezette’s gaze, a flicker of uncertainty in her eyes. He’s probably mad at me for being careless. It’s happened more than once. Rezette’s intense stare bore into her, and she felt a shiver run down her spine. Elise’s voice, low and measured, broke the tense silence.

“Do you know how scary it is when you get angry?”

“You’re scared?”

Before she could comprehend his words, his hand descended abruptly to her waist. A cry escaped Elise as the merciless pressure aggravated the bruises already mottling her skin. Tears welled up, stinging her eyes. Yet, the restraint that typically held him back seemed to linger, a realization that Rezette conveyed with a grim smile.

“I don’t think so, at least not now.”

Confusion etched Elise’s features.

“Have you ever been afraid of me? Only once, as far as I can remember, the first time you took me inside you.”

A surge of discomfort washed over her, and she swallowed hard.

“How would you know…?”

“I do, so don’t lie to me.” Rezette’s fingers gently cupped Elise’s cheeks, his lips pressing against her pale forehead. “No matter how much you hide it, I can see it.”

“It’s true…” Elise insisted.

“I just told you not to lie to me, Elise.”

His tone carried a weight of seriousness.

Elise closed her eyes, attempting to shield her agitation. Her heart thundered against her chest, each beat threatening to fracture her bones. What would he make of this relentless pounding, refusing to subside?

Or was he already detecting a sense of deceit?

I don’t think he’s noticed Barnon yet, or he’d have caught him long ago.

In that case, she couldn’t help but wonder.

“…What if I’m wasting your time?”

“I have plenty of time.”

“Are you planning to stay here for days?” Elise questioned.

“No,” replied Rezette. “I’m revisiting the farmhouse tonight. There are aspects of this place that continue to puzzle me.”

With those words, Elise felt her heart, once pounding painfully against her breastbone, plummet to her feet.

“Will we leave by dawn?”

“Yes. We’ll wrap up before dawn, so by tomorrow morning, we’ll be ready to cross the river again.”

“So we’re heading back to the castle, then?”


His tone was icy, causing Elise’s shoulders to slump involuntarily. Even if he wasn’t afraid, there was an undeniable tension in the air.

Ruben, Isaac, and the knights would already be outside, meticulously scrutinizing the peasants one by one.

But Barnon wasn’t one to act recklessly; he was a seasoned knight who had led Argan’s army for years, confronting barbarians with unwavering resolve. If he allowed Elise into this plan without hesitation, there had to be a reason, even if it meant risking his life.

So, we only have tonight.

Determined not to squander this chance, Elise knew she couldn’t afford any missteps. Somehow, she would bide her time until Rezette departed, leaving her alone to establish contact.

There was only one course of action available.

That evening, Elise forced a meal down her throat and retired to bed earlier than usual.

Despite her alert mind, her body easily succumbed to the weariness of a day spent riding horses and being drenched in the river. Elise, aware that she couldn’t deceive Rezette’s keen gaze by pretending to be asleep, yielded to slumber without resistance.

As anticipated, when Elise awoke, her side lay empty.

Drawing back the covers and pushing herself up gingerly, she detected a faint rustling emanating from the corner of the room. The noise was accompanied by the rhythmic banging against an object.

Across from the exit door, another door stood with its curtains half-drawn. The source of the sound was beyond it.

Elise, intrigued, moved toward the noise. She nudged the nightstand that obstructed the door slightly and gripped the doorknob with a trembling hand.

The slender doorway creaked open, revealing the newest addition to the company. A shiver ran down Elise’s spine as she recognized the dark gray hair atop his head.

“Barnon…” she whispered.

It marked the first time she’d stood face to face with him since he appeared in disguise as a boatman. A surge of emotions swept over her, her heart swelling, and her eyes burning as she gazed into his dark green eyes, a blend of concern, joy, and nervous anticipation reflected in them.

The other man, now finally seeing her face, mirrored equal agitation. His breath faltered through the doorway.

“…Your Grace.” His throat tightened, and Elise endeavored to steady her breathing.

“Be… brief. There’s no time for manners.”


Barnon’s gaze bore into her anxiously. He had been the first to witness her, alive or dead, since the burning of the Imperial City of Argan the previous winter. The cherished hope of all Arganians, the one they had sought relentlessly, lay before him, swallowed up by the snow.



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