Editor: Sudo & Nila
Whichever way you looked at it, Cesare was undoubtedly a strange man.
Despite the way he obsessed over me and clung to me, he never showed the slightest hesitation in using me as a pawn in his political schemes. For all I know, maybe he just thought of me as another one of his objects.
Three years ago, when I’d just gotten accustomed to the fact that I’d become fifteen year-old Rudbeckia, I made the mistake of refusing my arranged marriage to the Duke of Rembrandt.
With the foreknowledge that the duke would later become a key figure in the demise of my family, I invalidated our marriage right before the wedding was scheduled to happen using the humiliating pretense of physical impotence.
I wanted to do whatever I could to protect my new family that had treated me so well and stop whichever enemies would later plot against them.
But as soon as I expressed my unwillingness to marry him, Father’s usual warm expression morphed into an ice-cold frown that made my body tremble with fear in a way I was all too familiar with. That night, I was locked in my room and beaten by Cesare until I nearly passed out from the pain.
It was after those events repeated themselves a couple of times that I realized there was no difference between my old and my new life. Maybe, in part, that was also because I knew that Rudbeckia wasn’t actually the Pope’s biological daughter.
Rudbeckia’s biological mother, my mother, was killed as soon as she gave birth, before the Pope met his second official lover, Carmen. Most people around me were already suspicious that I wasn’t the Pope’s legitimate child, and, well, since I’d already read the story myself, I knew their suspicions were correct.
Putting on a facade and pretending to be family with people that didn’t share a single drop of blood with me, it was identical to my previous life. And after I became Rudbeckia, my anorexia manifested itself again as well.
“It hurts me to see you go too. This’ll be the last time something like this happens, I promise,” said Cesare.
“But I heard it’s dangerous there…”
“Dangerous? You’ll be guarded around-the-clock by a legion of elite knights, you have nothing to worry about. I’ll try to come visit you as often as I can too. It won’t be that bad, every place has something to like about it. Just think of it as a six-month-long vacation.”
“Six months? It’s really going to be six months?” I already knew exactly how long it was going to be but I pretended to be surprised anyway.
He chuckled and wrapped a lock of my hair around his finger, pulling it up to his nose.
“Yes, you just have to make it six months. He won’t do anything to you regardless, so you don’t need to worry.”
That wasn’t what I was worried about.
“You’ll really come visit me often?”
I prayed that he wouldn’t.
Trying to convince the knight who’d become my husband to not kill me was going to be difficult enough as it was. Even if I refused to poison his little sister, someone else would be ordered to do it and I would still end up being blamed.
If I was going to stop my husband’s little sister from being poisoned in six months, I had to start by convincing my husband and the people in Britannia, all of whom passionately hated me, that I was harmless, that I was their ally.
At least it wouldn’t be any different from how I’d been forced to act with my previous families.
Izek van Omerta.
As the successor of his father’s legendary martial arts technique, he was given the title of knight at fifteen years old and was crowned the kingdom’s youngest champion of the famed triannual Gladiatorial Match at age seventeen.
He became even more renowned and celebrated amongst the people through his heroic feats as a Paladin, but, because of his stubborn and headstrong personality, he refused every single one of the marriage proposals he received, much to the displeasure of his father.
The only females he was close with were his younger sister, Ellenia van Omerta, and his childhood friend, Freya van Furiana. If I remember correctly, his standoffish personality was, in large part, due to his mother’s death.
His mother, once a young princess, was passionately in love with the duke, but after she became the Duchess of Omerta and gave birth, she ended up killing herself while her children were still young. Her death had a profound impact on both Izek and Ellenia.
People believed that a soul who committed suicide was destined for eternal damnation, so their mother’s death consequently became a taboo subject.
To be honest, it was a long time ago since I had read the novel, so my memory of a lot of the story was vague at best. I wish I could’ve remembered more…
The reason why Izek had obediently accepted his marriage with Rudbeckia wasn’t due to any sort of coercion from his father. It was because Ellenia had originally been arranged to marry the Pope’s second son, Enzo.
The Vatican was struggling to fight off barbarians on their northern border, and with the added difficulty of internal conflict in the country, they were severely in need of reinforcements.
Receiving the aid of Britannia’s elite knights, that was the point of these political marriages.
After his announcement of the marriage at dinner, Father worked at lightning speed to prepare the wedding. A huge dowry and an assortment of elaborate gifts were sent to Britannia, and after my marriage was made official with a representative from the kingdom, Father began to make arrangements for me to leave for the North immediately.
I thought that after three years I would eventually get used to it, but every time I looked in the mirror, I was still startled by the unfamiliar woman I saw.
Her hair was a cascade of spiraling golden threads. Her eyes were like shining cerulean lakes. Her supple cheeks and tender lips didn’t resemble my original body in the slightest. The only thing even remotely similar between my two bodies was my long hair and small figure.
When I was a child, I was always sensitive about how I looked different from the other kids around me, but, funny enough, there were still times when I missed my old body.
“My beautiful daughter,” said Father with a warm smile, pulling me towards him and hugging me.
I was eighteen years old and, by the standards of this world, a fully-grown adult, but I was still considered and treated like a child in many ways. Like how Cesare would always sit me on his lap and pat my head like I was some kind of pet.
“You’re going to make a wonderful bride, my darling. The North will love you.”
“There’s no need to be upset. Don’t cry, my dear. We won’t be apart forever.”
If anything, I wished that this would be the last time we ever saw each other. Of course I cried though, that was part of my job after all.
My father chuckled seeing my delicate face covered in tears.
“I’m going to miss you all.”
“We’re going to miss you too, so much, my dear. I would send your brother to accompany you on the trip if I could, but it’s impossible right now, sadly.”
How grateful I was that it was impossible. It was scary enough seeing the visitors from the North watch our family like hawks. Did Father really not care about the rumors they would spread about me and Cesare?
“Wuaah! I can’t accept this bullsh*t! Am I the only one who’s upset by this? Waaah!”
“Wuaaah… Come here you idiot!”
Enzo, who’d been kicking the dirt and sulking by himself, hugged me tightly. Despite Enzo’s fiery temper and all the mischief he caused, I never felt uncomfortable around him. In a way, he really was the only normal one in this family.
“I’ll miss you.”
“And I’ll miss you too, stupid.”
Still grumbling, he hugged me so tight that I could barely breathe.
As he hugged me, Cesare, who’d been watching us, approached and wriggled his way between us. “That’s enough, Enzo. We don’t want to suffocate her.”
It was unclear what would happen after that, but the one thing I was certain about was that I wouldn’t shed any tears if Cesare were to end up dying.
Even if the entire Borgia family were massacred, I wasn’t sure how upset I’d be.
Stroking my tear-stained cheeks, the back of Cesare’s hand sent a cold shiver down my spine. I could feel his eyes staring into my soul, as if two vipers were trying to strangle me.
It was those vipers that I feared. They were the ones that scared me into obeying Cesare. In a lot of ways, he reminded me of my oldest brother from my previous life.
“Brother, you have to come visit me.”
“Of course, of course. I promise. Make sure to behave yourself until then, all right?”
How laughable the human instinct for survival is sometimes… That was what I thought of myself in this moment.
Despite having been reincarnated into an even more miserable life than my previous one, I was still doing everything in my power to survive as best as I could. Funny, right?
Although the people of the South believed otherwise, the North did, in fact, have weather besides constant rain and snow.
During the summer, the sun shone brilliantly, and the weather wasn’t excessively hot or humid like in the South. The problem was that summer was the only season you could ever see the sun.
Every three years, the country’s borders were opened and soldiers from neighboring lands were invited to participate in a grand dueling tournament, called the Gladiatorial Match.
On this clear, sunny summer weekend, crowds of children gathered to watch the groaning, dust-covered men battle it out.
Sir Ivan glared at his peers, both with pity and contempt, and then approached the man leading them. “Can I talk to you for a second?”
The man dropped his sword on the ground and took off his helmet, lowering his head.
His sharp jawline and long eyelashes were delicate, almost angelic, a stark contrast from the hot-blooded stare of his scarlet red eyes.
His gleaming, sweat-covered face. His jet-black, dust-covered armor. Standing at two meters tall, he looked like a demon that had just crawled out of the pits of Hell.