Thanks to Latifa90 for the kofi! So much support <3 Two more chapters are left, I’ll post them tomorrow T_T
What he did in front of everybody was so unexpected that I fell off the saddle, making me clutch his arms and lean my chest on his.
Ah, I don’t like this. I’ve become a mouse trapped in an eagle’s claw again.
A commotion broke out around us. The obvious murmurs and gossiping about us grated my ears, so I awkwardly laughed to drown them out.
“H-Hey, please don’t fight,” I let out meekly, seeing my mean husband’s face so close to mine.
“Don’t be mad. Your handsome face will get ruined.”
Izek stared at me silently for a moment.
Like the devil that he was, the glare in his eyes was very fierce. He growled as I wriggled my body, thinking he’d harshly throw me down on the ground.
“I’m not mad, damn it. Ellen, are you mad?”
Ellenia, who had answered immediately, eased her tense shoulders and went on as if nothing had happened. What kind of siblings were these two? The situation was absurd, but of course, I didn’t let any of my thoughts show on my face and smiled sweetly at Izek. He finally let me down, and when my feet touched the grass, I felt like I could breathe again.
“Thank you for bringing me here. I won’t forget today.”
Unmoving as ever, my husband did not respond.
“I’ll ride back on my own. Is that all right?”
“… Do as you please.”
He said it without meaning it, but it was still something. It was pretty hard being a fan.
Freya, whose eyes were glinting with interest, urged softly, “Come over here and sit down, My Lady. Everyone’s been waiting for you.”
Thank you for those empty words.
As I approached the table and obediently sat down, the handle of the teacup came into my vision. A handle forged in the shape of a turtle, with jewels for eyeballs.
Today sure was not my day.
“I apologize for making you witness something ugly. He’s always like this, so don’t be bothered by it too much,” Ellenia remarked with the usual businesslike tone and pushed a plate containing appetizers towards me.
The teacup—fine, but why was there a turtle decoration on the plate too?!
I tried to not look at any of the decorations, but I couldn’t hide the tremor in my hands as I busied myself with drinking from the cup.
Freya, sitting on the other side of me, leaned over to look at Ellenia and asked, “Is it okay to leave him like that?”
“Leave him alone.”
Ellenia was truly heartless. Before I knew it, my husband dragged his horse away, leaving me with the ladies. I looked over my shoulder at his back as he walked further away. I saw as the men approached him a moment later, like they had been waiting for him, when someone asked me, “Are you feeling well, My Lady?”
“Oh, yes, thank you—”
“You have no idea how surprised I was to hear that you collapsed at the Port of Elmos. Moreover, I even heard that you shed blood.”
I swallowed a groan. Well, it did happen in a crowded area, so it was only expected for rumors to have spread.
But the fact that I had a bloody nose, did we have to point that out here? Huh? This lady, Consolace or something, had been poking at my sore spots the last time as well.
“That’s right. I almost got in trouble. Thank you for worrying about me,” I replied, smiling at her with gratitude that came from the bottom of my heart. At least, I hoped she thought so.
Lady Consolace made a face, frowning yet smiling, but tried again, “I guess My Lady cares a lot about her figure.”
“You’re already pretty thin, but I haven’t seen the Lady eat anything at all since before. Does the food here not suit your taste?”
Her gray eyes sparkled as if she were genuinely concerned.
I’m sure this is only the second time we’ve seen each other. It’s sad to think you’re already pointing fingers at me for eating less.
“Is that so? I don’t usually have much of an appetite.”
“Well, I don’t know how they feel about it in the South, but being healthy is necessary to withstand the climate here. As to not be a nuisance, we must take care of ourselves.”
I see. A lady like me is a nuisance. So funny.
Still, I smiled brightly, my eyes twinkling, not a single genuine thought of mine showcased on my face. “Oh, thank you for your concern. You’ve been so sweet to me, so can I ask you about certain topics in the future? As you know, I don’t know many people here yet, so I don’t have anyone to ask.”
“… Very well.”
“Of course,” Lady Consolace gulped bitterly and nodded her head in defeat. She seemed annoyed.
I know, I know. To be made fun of, insults have to go both ways. Don’t worry, I’m not saying these stupid things because I like you.
“Try the Castella cake. It’s delicious.”
Ellenia was especially scary today for some reason, so I began to nibble on the bright yellow delicacy without much resistance.
It would all be fine if only I couldn’t see this damn turtle.
“Relax, Ellen,” Freya spoke up. “You two have a good relationship, so why did you suddenly start arguing with each other?”
“You and your brother are the ones who have a good relationship.”
“Loren? He’s nice, but he’s such a troublemaker. I wish I had a more reliable brother…” Playfully trailing off, Freya had naturally steered the conversation towards a different direction. She turned to me. “Come to think of it, I heard that My Lady has a very good relationship with her brothers too.”
There was only one ‘good’ sibling in my family and that was Enzo. He was a knight, not a cardinal. But the opposing career choices of my brothers was not the point. “It’s only natural. My brothers tend to put up with my childishness a lot.”
“I envy you. You are the baby sibling. You must miss them a lot.”
“To be honest, since I’ve come to like this place so much, it hasn’t really crossed my mind a lot.”
Freya was one of the people closest to Izek. Even if she weren’t, I had to be careful of what I said, just in case there were rumors going around about me.
“Will Cardinal Valentino visit Elendale this year?” The lady that had told me southern food did not fit her palate at the palace banquet, asked me with a love-struck sparkle in her eyes.
Haa, apart from the rumors about him and me, I forgot how popular Cesare was with the ladies.
Please don’t come. I really don’t want you to come, but it’s painful knowing that you are going to come.
“I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything yet.”
The Match was around late fall, so I still had a few months left, but my future seemed pretty bleak. It looked like I was definitely going to die, trapped between Cesare and Izek—two impenetrable walls.
After the ladies had their fill of cake and gossip, everyone started to mount their horses for riding. Fortunately, my husband had left his stallion for me to use and had disappeared off to somewhere. So I mounted the snobbish horse and joined.
Somehow, Freya and I ended up riding together, slowly walking our horses down the forest road side by side.
“Don’t mind Lady Consolace.” Seeing my confused eyes, she smiled sweetly and continued, “It’s just that she’s grumpy. She used to follow Iz around a long time ago. But once you get to know her, she’s not a bad person.”
It didn’t matter, but I nodded as if I cared.
“I don’t think she’s a bad person at all. Lord Izek is a wonderful man, so I understand that there are a lot of people that fancy him.”
“You’re so kind, My Lady.” Freya tilted her head to one side while her eyes fixed on the distance. Mounted on a snow-white stallion, she looked like a goddess straight out of a painting.
“I hope you don’t misunderstand, but I thought that My Lady would be a much more picky person.”
“Because you are the Princess of Romagna! It would not have been surprising if you were,” she joked, revealing her perfect white teeth.
Well, if I were the original Rudbeckia, that would have been true.
I still felt sorry for the poor girl.
“But, is it fine to continue down this path?” I asked her, noticing that the forest was getting more dense.
“It’s okay as long as we don’t go too far. This is the safest place to hold outdoor gatherings, so that’s why we’ve been able to hold them here every year.”
“Oh, that’s right…”
“But, My Lady seems to be very skilled at riding?”
“It’s nothing compared to you. It’s just that the horse is smart.”
“Oh, but I don’t think that’s true! My Lady, if you’d like to, why don’t we have a race?”
“If you go straight down this path, you’ll reach the opposite side of the road that we came from. How about we race until there? What do you say?”
I agreed because there was no reason to refuse. It was the perfect opportunity for me to become closer with Freya. I chewed on the thought of whether I should win or lose.
“My Lady should leave first.” Her innocuous smile put me at ease.
“Are you going easy on me?”
“Since I’m familiar with this road, I’ll give My Lady a bit of a head start.”
And that was how I started racing first. As soon as I got into position with my weight firmly in my heels, I clucked softly and urged the beast with my thighs, and the stallion broke into a gallop.
The wind blowing wildly in my ears, the blur of the passing trees, my bonnet coming undone and my braids flying loose—for the first time since coming here, I felt good. Maybe it was because it had been so long since I could ride as much as I wanted to without having to take anything or anyone into account, but I wanted to show off. I wanted to show my skills properly for the first time.
After a while, the road that Freya had mentioned appeared. As I was galloping along the sides, a strange feeling rose up in my chest. I couldn’t hear any noise coming from behind me.
Where was Freya? Did she go the other way?
I slowed my horse down to a stop and tried to listen for any sound. The stallion snorted and nervously stomped his hooves, almost like he was giving me a warning. Not even a second later, something popped out of the bushes and twisted around my ankle. I thought it was a snake so I let out a piercing shriek.
Surprised by the sudden scream, the horse neighed loudly and reared up on its hind legs. My hands slipped off the reins and my body was thrown into the air.
The shock of the impact with the hard ground made me tingle all over and I couldn’t see for a moment. Slowly, I realized that I was getting dragged away. I didn’t know if that thing was a vine or something else, but it was not letting go of my ankle. I didn’t even realize that I was screaming.
I only felt a throbbing pain throughout my entire body and then I hit my head against something hard.
I blacked out.
My head throbbed. It was hard to open my eyes.
It was dark and serene all over. The bright moonlight shone through the trees above as they gently swayed in the wind.
Where am I? What happened?
I let out an ugly sound as I made eye contact with the thing, trying to pull myself together and struggling to get up. Assuming those things I was looking at were eyes.
It was standing right next to me, watching me.
How could I describe what it looked like? A giant black monster rabbit, or a raccoon? Its two ears, which were on the top of its penguin-like body, were pointed like a rabbit’s, and its eyes, a pair of green jewels, shone noticeably in the dark.
And below that…
If that huge hole in its belly was a mouth, I would be dead and gone in a minute or so.