01. A Humble Princess (1)
“Please take me. I will serve you all, Sir knights.”
Bang, fireworks filled in the night sky like stars. The orchestra’s symphony, which celebrated the ducal princess’s birthday, permeated the summer night air of the garden softly.
Catherine clutched her dress tightly as she listened to the elegant symphony that traveled over the stable walls. The dress was made out of cheap, penistone fabric. It was a sl*ve’s outfit.
The smell of the dust from the long-neglected stable and strong liquor stung her nose, while the gazes of drunken men shone as they looked at her through the dark shadows that cut diagonally across the stable’s walls.
‘I want to die.’
This was a line that she’d practised before a mirror over a hundred times. But when she actually said it, embarrassment and shame engulfed her, burning her from within her stomach to her cheeks.
‘Pull yourself together, Catherine. Didn’t you practise countless times? You have to seem like you’re originally such a woman.’
“As you may know, I’ve spent most of my time with animals, so I’m weak to my instinct. It’s hard for me to endure, so please, I beg you. Take me…”
She struggled to lift her head, deftly catching their gaze.
“Please take me.”
Instead of horses, there were three or four drunken knights in the stable. A knight with a bruise on his face stood with his back against the wall, hands bound behind his back, while others surrounded him.
Catherine’s main target was that knight. A man who took pleasure in repeatedly beating up his junior knights. In many ways, he had quite the reputation. He was an infamous debauchee that beat a cleaning sl*ve to death after getting drunk in a brothel, and his marriage was even called off due to venereal diseases.
The reason she targeted him was simple. It’s because amongst those present, he was the one that would humiliate her the most harshly.
Wouldn’t a man of that level leave traces of a filthy and lewd night all over her body?
She needed proof. Evidence that she was an impure and promiscuous woman.
As expected, he turned and spat on the floor.
“Oh, f*ck. I must be really unlucky today… How dare a lowly, barbaric wh*re start a conversation with a knight first?”
The low level knight who had been taking a beating a while ago hurriedly grabbed him.
“Y—you can’t. I know that you hate those red-headed races, Sir, but we’re in a manor belonging to the Caliburn ducal family. That person is definitely not a sl*ve, but Ducal Princess Caliburn, the fiancée of His Majesty the former Emperor… Ugh!”
“Shut up! If you get on my nerves, you’ll be beaten to death, regardless of whether you’re the previous Emperor or his betrothed!”
After the knight gave him a punch, he closed the distance in a staggering gait.
“Hey. My eyes will roll back the moment I see a redhead like you. Got it? Rather than having an illicit relationship with a disgusting creature like you, I’d rather lay with a hen… Oh?”
He suddenly shut his mouth and then, like a stallion in rut, let out a hot breath and thrust his face forward.
He grabbed her hair, seemingly to take a closer look at her face. Her body staggered, red curls strewn about the edge of her vision.
“Are you a Rediot? Why do you look like this?”
The red-haired race of barbarians, Rediot. They were people captured by people from the Pendragon Empire from the ‘savage continent’ and ensl*ved. To the Imperials, the Rediots were intelligent monkeys living in the forest. Barbarians, half-humans, sl*ves, and Rediots. They all meant the same thing.
“Whatever. I’ll kill you today, so you ought to be grateful. Hmm?”
As he raised her hand to slap her on the cheek, Catherine just closed her eyes tightly. She didn’t even make futile attempts to defend herself. It was as though she had expected this level of violence.
‘It’s okay. As long as I don’t die, it’ll be fine. Then, everything can be resolved. As long as I endure this…’
Catherine balled her hands tightly and gritted her teeth, but no matter how long she waited, the pain she was anticipating didn’t arrive. Suddenly, the tight, pulling sensation on her scalp disappeared as well, perhaps because he’d let go of her hair.
The surroundings fell silent.
A terrifyingly heavy silence descended. As though all kinds of creatures had hidden themselves between rocks, holding their breath at the appearance of a predator.
‘What’s going on?’
When she opened her eyes slightly, she was greeted with the hardened state of the knight that had been holding her hair. He was frozen in the same posture as when he was just about to slap her. Upon closer examination, she realised that someone else was yanking his head backwards by grabbing his tresses. And a gleaming silver object was resting on that knight’s neck…
It was the edge of a dagger. A razor-sharp weapon that could cleanly slice off fingers with a mere touch.
Someone had crept behind him undetected and held a knife to his throat.
The person’s eye was visible from behind the knight. A head above the relatively tall knight was golden coloured eyes.
The oblique, pitch-black shadow swallowed his face. Although part of his face was swallowed by the dark shadow, a fierce, beast-like yellow gaze stared out from within the darkness.
Her shoulders twitched at the very low and deep voice.
The knight’s face turned pale, perhaps because he’d realised the man’s true identity from the low voice that resonated in his stomach. The blade, a deep blue akin to moonlight, cut into the knight’s throat, causing a trickle of red blood to flow down.
He whispered languidly by the knight’s ear.
“It is an honour to meet you. The great knight that’ll beat the immoral Grand Duke and his fiancée to death if he takes an issue with.”
“Y—Your Highness the Grand Duke. I—I was just…”
The man leisurely placed a black leather-gloved finger against the knight’s lips, causing the knight to fall silent immediately. It was masculine response to an instinctual awareness of who had the upper hand.
“I know you are thankful. Since I will kill you myself today.”
Thud! He flung the knight onto the ground. He then stomped on the groaning head lightly. It was as though he was going to finish the knight there and then, and this triggered Catharine’s body to move.
‘Oh no. If another family’s knight dies within the grounds of the Caliburn ducal family’s castle, on today of all days…’
“Please wait a minute…!”
At her urgent cry, his gaze turned towards her.
His eyes were eerie-looking. Golden irises that showed no emotions whatsoever.
As the clouds passed, the pale rays of moonlight fell onto his face. Neat blond hair with nary a single strand out of place. Sharp features that were a cumulation of sharp lines. And a cold, piercing glare that seemed to cut through the person he was facing.
Deimos Achilleion Pendragon. The man responsible for all of this.
Catherine strengthened her trembling legs and managed to speak with difficulty.
“Right now, nothing has yet to happen. It’s not assault but attempted assault. As such, it is against military law to execute him summarily. Setting a wrong precedent will cause dishonour you eternally, so please reconsider.”
“If you were taking my situation into consideration… I was the one that seduced him first, so the charge is unestablished as it was fornication from the beginning. Therefore, please take back your decision to execute summarily within the grounds of Caliburn Castle.”
An inexplicable silence swept through the stable, along with its dusty smell. During the silence that lasted for an eternity, Catherine hurriedly searched through her mind, ‘Did I say wrong? No, there isn’t anything wrong with what I’d said…’
“Very well, I understand.”
Catherine brightened up with his acquising nod.
He stepped on the knight’s head and knelt on the other knee. The pain of his skull being crushed made the knight writhe like a frog pinned beneath a rock.
“Y—Your Highness… Aack!”
Chwak! A dreadful sound echoed. It happened in the blink of an eye. The dagger that shimmered silver sliced through the knight’s hand neatly. It was the hand that grabbed Catherine’s hair.
Blood gushed out in red streaks. The scent of blood that invaded her five senses as her temple tensed tightly.
“I didn’t kill him.”
A muffled sound barely managed to escape her throat. Her vision blurred at the unreal sight.
Catherine’s gaze followed him as he slowly rose to his feet. Endlessly tall.
He was really tall. Incomparable with anyone she’d seen before. A lofty man that was beyond anyone’s grasp.
Step. Each heavy footfall caused her heart to pound like a drum. As he emerged through the shadows, he appeared like a grim reaper from the underworld, who’d come to drag her down to hell.
She took a step back unknowingly, but as much as she tried to retreat, he closed their distance. Step, step. Her back touched the wooden door at the end of their game of cat and mouse, and she was completely engulfed by his shadow.
The short command caused the knights to promptly salute and leave through the back door hurriedly. The faint sound of the symphony drifting in through the window frame of the stable struggled against the discomforting silence.
“You know. With all due respect, there’s something I’d like to ask…”
An extremely low baritone rang out. He spoke in a gentle tone that didn’t harmonise with the piercing scent of blood.
Like a predator observing its prey, he scanned Catherine from head to toe. She bore through that weapon-like scrutiny with gritted teeth.
It was frightening and overwhelming. Just enduring that gaze felt like she was a soldier holding back the charging enemy at the castle gate with but a single shield. She was both frightened and powerless.
“Why did you pretend to be a sl*ve?”
“An aristocrats wouldn’t become a sl*ve by showing deference and putting on a intimidated pretence. There isn’t sl*ve that would speak of military law and dishonour with a Roman accent.”
A corner of his mouth curled upwards. He smiled rather slowly, as though he’d found an interesting toy, but it wasn’t a smile filled with emotion. Rather, it was closer to an icy sneer.
“Why did my fianceé…”
Shiing, the blade reflected the moonlight. He aimed it at her throat. Just like he was a second away from piercing through her throat. The cold metal tip of the blade grazed her neckline. The blade belonged to her fiancé.
“Pretend to be a sl*ve to toy around with other men? Catherine Caliburn.”
Catherine’s intuition told her.
That her plan to break off the engagement has turned into a complete disaster.
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