Thank you Latifa90 for the kofi~ Third chapter, as promised.
The place he led me to was a study.
He slammed the door shut as soon as I followed him in. The loud bang had me flinching and tears started to well up, but I tried to hold it in.
I dragged my feet to the chair opposite him.
Izek let out a long breath, his arms folded and his back straight, trying hard to suppress his growing ire. His clothes were covered in dirt and were sweat-drenched all the way to the back of his neck, and his silver-white hair was all over the place. I had never seen him look this disheveled.
“All right.” His eyes were stone cold. “Tell me what happened.”
Tell him what happened? Was he asking me my side of the story? Why? Would he even listen to me? Would he believe me?
I realized that I had been lost in thought for too long, because Izek’s scowl was deepening by the second. I gulped nervously and quickly began to explain, “W-We were riding… And Lady Furiana requested a race, just… just us two, so I went down the road she told me to go on. Something came out of the bushes suddenly and grabbed me and pulled me into the woods. I hit my head on a rock and lost consciousness so I couldn’t do anything.”
I forgot to breathe for a moment as I tried to gauge his reaction and wondered if I should tell him about the Popo monster, but the look on his face was so bizarre that I turned into ice.
His eyes were dull and his face was grave. “Freya said you went into the woods on your own even though she told you not to.”
“W-What? What do you mean…”
“So, Freya lied? Is that what you’re saying?”
My chest was heaving, my heart was pounding, and my lips were quivering. I felt like I had been punched in the gut.
Why would Freya say that? Why? Why would she do that? Because she didn’t want to take responsibility? Was she afraid to admit that it was her who suggested going down that road?
I had not felt any hostility coming from Freya at all. It didn’t feel like she even cared about me much, so why? Why would she lie? She had most definitely sent me down that road on purpose. She’d said that she knew all about the forest, so she would have known that there would be monsters there. She knew. And because of her, Izek was now loathing me.
I stood no chance against her here. It was only natural for Izek to trust her words more than mine. Once I was branded a liar and something similar were to happen in the future, he would never believe in me again. I would always carry that mark. It was something I knew from experience.
Why was she ruining me like this?
Izek, having been silently staring at me, looking like he had a thousand questions running through his head but uttering none of them, spit out, “Return.”
“Return to Romagna. I’ll let you go without any conditions.”
I could do nothing but gaze at him stupidly.
Izek had agreed to marry me only to prevent Ellenia from marrying Enzo.
Everyone knew that our marriage would end one day. What my family needed from this marriage was military help, and what Britannia got was Romagna’s gold. Once my father had what he wanted, he would do anything to annul it and take me back home. I knew this. Everyone knew this.
However, being married to Izek meant having to live in Britannia, which meant that I was essentially a hostage in this country. I was Britannia’s leverage against the Pope’s schemes and tyranny. Everyone knew that not even being in-laws with that man was enough to protect you from his machinations, so me being here was the one advantage the Northerners had over Romagna.
Britannia had the upper hand right now, with the Borgia daughter in their country, instead of having the Omerta daughter in the South as was intended. They would not let go of me so easily. Not even my father or Cesare could act recklessly in this precarious situation. Finding a way to annul the marriage, or divorce in case the marriage had been consummated, was difficult and would stay difficult as long as Romagna hadn’t fought off the barbarians bordering up North with the help of Britannia’s military.
Not even a month had passed since I stepped foot in this country, but Izek was willing to annul the marriage and send me back with no conditions? Was he saying that Britannia would still send reinforcements even without the sacred oath of marriage?
It was commendable, but it was not his decision to make. It didn’t matter that he was the king’s nephew or the future Duke of Omerta, this marriage would only end once our countries’ leaders decided that it would.
Besides the fact that I did not ever want to return to my hellish life and family back in Romagna, Ellenia would still marry the Prince of Dorias in half a year. Who would stop her from being assassinated then? Even if it wouldn’t be me to do the poisoning, one of my father’s spies installed here would do it and she would still die. Then, both the North and the clergy would rise up against the Pope and kill the entire house of Borgia…
If I can’t stop anything from happening here and were to go back home like this, I’ll die.
“We didn’t marry for love anyway, and nothing good will come out of you staying here, so just go back home. You might have felt it already, but you don’t belong here.” His voice was calm, quiet and soft in a way, but what he said stabbed me through the heart all the same.
He sounded tired and looked tired too. His eyes had been burning with fury earlier, but now they were downcast. He wasn’t looking at me anymore.
“It’ll be a while before the doctor arrives,” Izek got up and headed towards the door, running his fingers through his hair and sighing, “so until then—”
“I-I don’t want to.”
He stopped moving. “What?”
The chair I had been sitting on tipped over as I hurried to reach him, crawling on the floor and clutching his trousers. The sound of it falling over lingered in the room. My ankle throbbed, but I didn’t care.
I had to fix this. Even if he were to beat me for lying, I had to fix this.
“What the hell are you doing…”
“I-I can’t go back. Please… I was w-wrong, it’s all my fault! Please don’t throw me away…”
I knew that he hated crying, but I couldn’t help but sob as I saw my life flash before my eyes. If he sent me back like this, barely a month into our marriage, then my father would really beat me to death this time. I couldn’t even begin to fathom what Cesare would do.
I sat on my knees in front of him, crying my heart out and gripping his leg. Izek was looking down at me with the same expression he had worn this morning in the stables, the same disbelief from back then darkening his ruby-colored eyes.
“I-I must have misunderstood what she was saying. H-How dare… How dare I make up that Lady Furiana lied to me? I will… apologize to her! I will apologize to everyone! From now on, I will just stay inside the house, doing nothing and acting like I’m dead! I won’t do it again, so please… Please forgive me.”
Izek was right in front of me, but I couldn’t see him. All I could see was the look on my father’s face as he learned about how I ruined his plans, Cesare taking out the whip, taking me to the basement.
“I-I will… I will do whatever you tell me to do… I will do anything. I’ll take any punishment… I will get hit for everything I did wrong! So please…”
Izek’s face, having been frozen in shock, slowly twisted into something ugly.
He towered over me, standing as tall as a tree, and the sudden movement of his hands as he grabbed me and pulled me up had me flinch and quiver and clench my eyes shut in fear. I knew what would come next, I was used to it after all. I braced myself for the impact of the slap, but it didn’t come.
“I hate you so much.”
His voice was low and rough, strangled and hoarse.
I knew he hated me, I already knew that, but the unfamiliar emotions in his eyes made me stop shaking. They were burning with rage, but not the kind of rage that I was used to.
“I get so annoyed with you,” he growled out. “Why have I been so riled up all night, why are you making me worry about things that don’t matter to me, and why do I care about whether you die or not… All you are is f*cking troublesome. I can’t f*cking figure out why I care so much, and it’s driving me insane. I’d rather you go around acting like a b*tch as if this is your hometown. So why do you keep behaving like this? What the hell is wrong with you? All you do is piss me off, but why do I keep thinking about you all the time…”
I could feel the harsh breath he let out echo in my bones.
“I’m going crazy because I can’t figure it out. That’s why I hate you.”
His eyes bore into mine, suffocating me with the raw emotions reflected inside. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. In the midst of this heavy silence, all we did was stare at each other. His fiery gaze was burning me, but I didn’t want to separate myself from him. I didn’t want to look away.
A surge of relief washed over me.
It was not because of Freya that he wanted to send me back. It wasn’t like that. He wasn’t upset with me because of her. Instead of blindly trusting his childhood friend’s testimony, he was shaken by what I had said.
There was still light at the end of the tunnel.
That little piece of emotion he was feeling right now, whether it was pity, curiosity, regret or whatever else—I didn’t care what it was. What mattered was that I had become important to him, even if only by a little bit, for him to react like this.
There was still hope for me. I could still chip away at his cold heart. I could still get him on my side. Bluebeard and the Shining Knight were the same person, after all.
“I’ll do anything,” I breathed. “I’ll do anything you want, so just tell me. Just… Please don’t throw me away. Please…”
Izek slowly pulled away from me. It was funny how it was me whose eyes were shimmering with tears, but it was him who looked heartsick the most.
He turned around and left. The door slammed shut.
And just like that, the best knight in the North, my husband, had run away.
Frozen and gazing numbly at the spot where Izek had just been, I dwelled on what I remembered about Freya’s character from the novel. She was a perfect lady, always cheerful, always confident, dignified and loved by all. Other than those attributes, there hadn’t been much mention of her. Apart from that, it had been such a long time since I had last read the book, my memories of it were vague at best.
Most of the narrative had been centered around the plot of the Borgia family and the northern knights anyway, so I wouldn’t have known much about Freya’s particularities even if I could have remembered more. I did remember, however, that whenever Rudbeckia had tried to bully her, Freya responded wisely each time, always managing to stay composed and noble, while Ruby only looked like a childish fool.
Nothing worthy of note concerning Freya in the book came to me as I racked my brain to find even one clue as to why she would have done what she did. I had thought that even if she and Izek held feelings for each other as more than friends, that it wouldn’t have mattered when all was said and done.
Because everyone knew that I was the wife who would be abandoned.
I thought she’d be fine and bide her time quietly waiting for me to get thrown out of the Duchy if I didn’t torment her or act petty and jealous like Rudbeckia had done in the original story. She knew that one day I would be cast out and that all she had to do was wait for that day, so why would Freya do this to me? I had been pretending to be harmless and friendly every single minute of every single day, so why would she lie?
She had to have known about the dangers of taking that path, of getting lost in the woods, of encountering monsters there. Did she just not expect me to get attacked so soon? But she hadn’t even followed me down the road back then, so she must have gone back as soon as she saw me go off on my own. So she probably lied to me from the start? Did she perhaps expect the search party to find me quickly, and so she wanted to brand me as a liar in front of all the young nobles, the knights and my husband too?
Why in God’s name would she?
Unlike her brother, I hadn’t thought that she held any ill feelings towards me at all. She had been treating me kindly and hadn’t shown any type of hostility whatsoever. Obviously, she was a good actress. Just like with the maids, I would have brushed this off and put it behind me as if this incident was something insignificant, but if Freya was not the person I had thought she was, then this wasn’t insignificant at all.
Even if I wanted to bite my tongue and swallow it down, even if what they did was childish and even if it was trivial, whatever it was, I couldn’t afford for such things to happen anymore.
My suspicions about Freya proved right the next day when she personally came to visit me.
Ed./N: I want to explain the “Bluebeard and the Shining Knight” part to you guys, because I know it doesn’t make any sense. Usually, if there was something incomprehensible in the text, I would edit it out and replace it with something that did make sense, but that phrase is the title of Part I of Book 1 of this novel (check chapter 1; the story is divided into four books, and one book is divided into multiple parts), so I felt compelled to keep it in and explain it at the end since it seems to be of importance.
Bluebeard (“La Barbe bleue”) is a French folktale from 1697. It’s a tale about a wealthy but monstrous aristocratic man and his curious wife. When he leaves on a trip and gives the castle keys to his wife, he tells her she may enter every room but one, lest she wants to suffer his wrath. His wife’s curiosity eventually gets the best of her and she enters the forbidden room. There, she finds the corpses of Bluebeard’s six previous brides who had mysteriously disappeared prior. He finds out what she did once he returns and threatens to kill her on the spot, but she stalls for time and her brother and sister manage to arrive and kill the man. The seventh wife inherits her husband’s wealth and ultimately remarries and moves on from the horrors she’s lived through.
The moral of the story has been debated a lot and I’m not going to discuss it here, but the folktale has left its mark on literature. The term “bluebearding” has been coined because of this story, and it means “a man who marries and kills one wife after another”.
The term “Shining Knight” is tricky, because it references nothing. I’ve literally scoured every possible part of the internet for even a crumb of a footnote, but it’s just not there. I quite literally have no idea what it means. Which is why I wanted to leave it out of the text, but alas, it has importance so I couldn’t. What follows next is my personal interpretation.
In Korean, the phrase “knight in shining armor” is written like “a shining armor-clad knight”. What I think the author wanted to do, is to leave out the “armor” part to make the way “Bluebeard and the Shining Knight” sounds in Korean roll off the tongue better.
So here’s what I think: we all know what a knight in shining armor means, it’s a chivalrous man who comes to the rescue of a woman in a difficult situation, and Bluebeard is a man who kills his wife. Ruby sees Izek as the husband who will kill her. To prevent that, she needs to get him on her side. For Ruby to survive the fate of the house of Borgia getting purged, she needs Izek, the man destined to do the purging, to be her knight in shining armor. She needs him to be the man that will save her from her fate. Izek could either kill her, or he could save her. He is both the Bluebeard and the Shining Knight for her. And that’s how I interpreted that phrase :3