The Gladiatorial Match was not a competition between people, but a death match against ferocious demons.
The Match was a terrifying contest, which only soldiers and knights were allowed to participate in. To prevent accidents from happening and to monitor misconduct, a committee consisting of clerics was formed each time.
Cesare would use that as an excuse to come visit me.
Ah, damn it.
“Do you not have an appetite?” Ellenia suddenly asked me, shifting in her seat and listening to the conversations around the table with her cold and indifferent face as always. Did she notice that I was only sipping from my glass?
“I just love the taste of alcohol.”
“It’s not good to drink on an empty stomach.”
So I put down my glass and pretended to eat the lemon pie in front of me. Then, when everyone left the table to go dance, I made an excuse to use the washroom and slipped away.
I didn’t mean to throw it back up.
There would be a serious problem if anyone saw me vomiting in a place like this and a rumor spread. Obviously, I was a little out of it because I drank on an empty stomach.
“Oh, pardon me.”
I had left the banquet hall and tried to enter the balcony, but I bumped my shoulder hard against someone coming from the opposite side. My shoulders were quite unfortunate today.
The other person grabbed my hand and helped me hastily, just as I was about to stumble. “Are you all right?”
He sounded quite young. When I raised my head, slightly frowning because of the pain, mesmerizing purple eyes came into my vision.
He was tall, but he seemed young. He looked about fifteen years old. His pale blond hair covering the back of his neck and his pretty face reminded me of someone.
“I’m fine, but…” I hesitated.
“Ah, I am Lorenzo van Furiana. You were with my sister a little while ago, weren’t you?” As expected, Freya’s little brother. He really resembled her. “Are you sure you’re okay? Do you want me to help you to the banquet hall?”
“I’m all right. I was just coming out to get some fresh air. Are you a Paladin?”
“Lord Izek would laugh if he heard this. I’m still too young to be one. But, are you perhaps bored with the banquet?”
Banquets were always boring, but that didn’t matter right now. What mattered was the strange way he was looking at me.
The boy smiling in front of me was acting quite friendly and cheerful, but the hostility that he emitted with his whole body was so clear that it was suffocating. I had always been sensitive to people’s negative emotions, but the disgust in his eyes was just too obvious. Maybe it was because he was still young and green?
Look at him. When did he ever meet me to get such a bad impression?
Not even my husband had this bad of an impression of me. Ellenia had a God-given poker face, so it was difficult to decipher her emotions. Freya was a little vague as I had just met her, but I couldn’t call her hostile.
But why was Freya’s brother making such a face?
I continued to smile at him in silence and kept my eyes on him, and he stared back at me for a moment, too. Then, he scratched his head, as if he was embarrassed. “Oh, I’m sorry. I just can’t believe I’m seeing you in person…”
“It sounds like I’m famous here.”
“Where in the world would there be a man who doesn’t know My Lady’s name? You are the Pope’s daughter.”
“Really? I’m not as famous as my brothers, so I’m a little surprised.”
A short silence passed by. Lorenzo, who pretended to think about something while scratching his temple, smiled and confessed, “Actually, there’s a famous song that was not too popular until a while ago.”
“Seems like My Lady’s never heard of it before. Would you like to listen to it?”
“I’m curious, so please go ahead.”
“This is roughly how it goes,” he hummed, exaggeratedly clearing his throat. “Sistine’s lark said she couldn’t find a man to suit her taste, but her brothers would be fine to embrace—”
Whatever reaction Lorenzo had expected from me, it would remain eternally unknown because of the sudden sound of him getting hit.
“Didn’t I tell you not to f*ck around, huh?!”
“Ah, wait a minute, ahhh!”
My eyes widened in surprise. Sir Ivan, the pretty, foul-mouthed Paladin, jumped out of nowhere, smacked Lorenzo upside the head without any mercy, and then pulled on his ear relentlessly. “Apologize immediately before I rip open your mouth!”
“To think that you admire Izek! Do you want me to bring you to him? If it’s that a**hole, he would tear you to shreds if he heard the sh*t you just said! Apologize to Lady Rudbeckia with that sh*tty mouth of yours right now!”
I didn’t think Izek would tear Freya’s brother to shreds just because he sang that song. However, Lorenzo did murmur something like an apology, his head held down due to Ivan’s hand on the back of his neck. Perhaps he was scared of Sir Ivan telling Izek or maybe because he just gave in to the pain.
“Don’t you mumble! Should I make you bark louder?” Sir Ivan snarled.
“Well, I’m all right, really. You can let him go.” I didn’t really want to hear his apology since I wasn’t angry in the first place.
Sir Ivan, turning to look at my face, quickly gave me a warm smile and let go of the boy. Lorenzo wasted no time and immediately ran away. I had to admit that he looked kind of funny as he scurried down the hall like that.
Sir Ivan shook his head and muttered a final low-pitched curse under his breath, the angry frown on his brows not marring his beauty at all, then looked back at me. “I apologize for the mess you just witnessed.”
“Don’t get me wrong. He’s… He’s just having some weird delusions. Such an absurd song is known to none of our knights….”
“Sir Ivan, it’s really all right. It’s not my first time hearing such a rumor.”
A moment passed by in silence. I was trying to open the dam again while Sir Ivan eyed me with a puzzled look on his face.
“I’m sorry, I’m just… I just suddenly thought… I wonder if my husband believes in such rumors, so I…”
“That’s ridiculous!” he quickly interjected. “He’s not interested in the crap other people make up in the first place.”
“Of course! And he’s not the type to turn away from someone just because they bother him. To be honest, that’s why I was a bit surprised earlier… Ah, I don’t mean to say that you’re bothering him…”
Should I say that’s an honor? “H-He doesn’t hate me, right?”
“Not at all! How dare a man hate his wife? It’s just that he’s been living his life in his own way, and this must be the first time he’s experiencing something not going his way. He’s just embarrassed and acting up.”
“So, he wouldn’t hate me even if I liked him to my heart’s content, right?”
“Of course! No, actually, it would be a great honor for him.” Sir Ivan, who had been nodding his head and cheering for me, began to cough awkwardly in realization. His smile faded away and his face grew sullen.
It’s okay, I understand.
“I will escort you to the banquet hall, My Lady,” he offered.
“It’s fine. I came out because I wanted to get some fresh air anyway.”
“But if you’re alone… Well, all right. But if that kid shows up again, you must tell me.” Was he worried that that kid might come after me and make me cry again? His mouth was dirty, but his chivalry was certainly intact.
Coming out on the balcony alone, my eyes took in the bright night view. A beautifully decorated courtyard greeted me. Next to the balcony stood a winding staircase to the yard. I could see a pond surrounded by sculptures in the distance, so I descended the steps to take a closer look.
As I approached the pond, next to a pair of swan statues with their heads and necks twisted in the shape of a heart, a red-brown mop of hair stood out.
Princess Arien, who was hiding behind the swan statue’s tail, leaned her head forward. She held a bunch of yellow flowers in her hands, gathered in front of her chest. Was she playing here alone? Where did her nanny go?
“Um, please don’t tell Mama.”
So she sneaked out. Surprisingly, she was a bit of a tomboy. I nodded and said gently, “I won’t tell her. What are you making?”
Instead of answering, the little princess looked at me with hesitant eyes. She didn’t seem to trust my words.
I turned my head and neared the pond, as if telling her that I wouldn’t disturb her. In the middle of the large reservoir stood a great and magnificent bridge.
“… You can’t be here alone,” the princess said as I went near the water.
“A couple has to come here together to make their love come true.” She came out from behind the statue.
Love will come true.
I couldn’t believe that there would be a pond like this in the palace. How romantic. Well, the king, at least, was a known romantic.
“Does their love come true?” I bent over and made eye contact with the princess, a gentle smile on my face.
“I don’t know… That is what the nanny said. The fairy of love lives in the pond.” The little princess got distracted by my hair, staring at it. Was it because my hair was also twisted in a braid like hers?
“Is that a bouquet of flowers?”
“… Is it pretty?”
“Yes, it’s very pretty. Who did you make it for?”
The princess blinked her big eyes as if she was hesitating for a moment, then nodded to herself and whispered in a soft voice, “I’ll give it to you.”
“If you let me touch your hair, I’ll give it to My Lady.”
I pulled my hair to one side for her to touch and smiled at her again. “Now?”
“Not now, but later.”
So, she wanted to play with my hair like she would with a doll’s? Even though I was this old, to this little girl I probably looked like a giant doll from the South.