Taken aback, Elfreda inadvertently stopped, causing Marchioness Magnum, who was walking ahead, to turn around.
“Is there a problem?”
She must have heard it, too. Elfreda was bewildered by her seemingly indifferent attitude.
“I’m sure you must have heard what the ladies-in-waiting said just now, Marchioness Magnum.”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t hear anything.”
Marchioness Magnum casually responded and then turned to the ladies-in-waiting behind.
“You guys, what did you say?”
The ladies-in-waiting, wearing expressions of injustice, shook their heads.
“We didn’t say anything, Chief lady-in-waiting.”
“Yes, maybe the princess misheard?”
“She must be tired from the long journey, so she might have misinterpreted some nonsense.”
As Marchioness Magnum explained with a sarcastic tone, her expression turned accusative. Elfreda looked around in astonishment, though all the ladies-in-waiting of Machi wore the same expression.
Elfreda, along with the ladies-in-waiting and guards accompanying her, was immediately separated under the pretext of a physical examination. There was no one to testify that she was not crazy hearing voices in this place.
At that suffocating feeling. At the same time, she remembered her father’s words before coming here.
‘No matter what happens, endure it as much as possible and behave properly from the start. If you become a pretext for war, it’ll be a headache.’
If her bloodthirsty and infamous grandfather, who was known as a war fanatic, were to hear of this, he would immediately burst out of his grave. Her father, on the pretext of being the only son of the late Emperor Gunnar, had ascended to the throne three years ago despite the opposition of the nobles and the concerns of the court.
The reasons for his opposition were that he was not as courageous or outstanding as Gunnar, his leadership was far below that of his father, and he wasn’t capable enough to continue the glory of Makaeri.
He was aware of the public’s disapproving eyes and tried to avoid anything that could harm the imperial authority. That was why he was reluctant to directly confront Machi, where the expedition was difficult, and victory was uncertain.
Unlike his father, he also did not wish to be seen as a coward for avoiding the fight.
It was a request understandable for him, who was absorbed in solidifying his rule by using the excuse of stopping the expedition. However,
‘Even without such a request, I wouldn’t have had any choice but to endure it.’
Elfreda took all the hostile gazes directed solely at her.
Although it was stated that Makaeri had apologized for the previous things that happened before this peace marriage, it was merely a formality. She didn’t expect the deep-seated grudge to be genuinely resolved.
Those who came from Makaeri together might use the excuse of the Queen adapting to return to their homeland, and such occurrences would likely continue in the future. That was precisely why it was not beneficial for her to vent her anger and assert her authority over the ladies-in-waiting right now.
They were the ones she would have to continue facing.
There were limits to replacing the ladies-in-waiting, and whoever the replacement would likely have the same attitude. It was uncertain whether the king of Machi would tolerate such demanding behavior.
Ultimately, whatever action she took to protect herself would end up in a lose-lose situation. So—
—She has no choice but to live like dead.
Elfreda turned her head at Marchioness Magnum’s call. Her face showed a curious expression, wondering how it would turn out. Swallowing her dry saliva, she finally raised her head with a resigned feeling.
“When will I be able to see His Majesty?”
She redirected the conversation with a weary voice, causing a victorious smile to appear at the corners of the Marchioness Magnum’s mouth. She seemed to ponder for a moment before opening her mouth.
“Umm, I don’t know. He’s a busy man. Well, if you wait, you’ll probably get a response.”
Marchioness Magnum continued walking with a cheerful hum, her response extremely insincere.
Elfreda was struck by the fact that everyone in this country seemed to dislike her, regardless of their status.
She arrived at Tems Palace with a desolate feeling.
* * *
After finishing her bath and tidying up her meager belongings, Elfreda had nothing else to do.
She decided to go to bed early.
She would feel better after sleeping.
Hoping for that, she lay on the bed, but in the unfamiliar environment, she couldn’t easily fall asleep. After about an hour of restlessness, she considered getting up, but she decided to stay in bed, fearing that the ladies-in-waiting might notice her.
The surroundings were quiet because the Queen retired early.
The familiar loneliness enveloped her, but the loneliness felt even more poignant in the distant foreign land.
Elfreda closed her eyes and envisioned how she would spend her time here.
Everyone might dislike her, but she would have to be kind to everyone. She would have to smile and speak warmly, making an effort not to be too much of a target for hatred.
It was at that moment that a chilling sensation enveloped her darkened vision as she closed her eyes. Soon after, she heard the sound of footsteps approaching cautiously. Elfreda naturally assumed it was a lady-in-waiting coming to tend to the fire.
However, the footsteps felt heavier and gradually drew nearer.
She sensed her body tensing with an inexplicable tension. It would be a simple matter to open her eyes and confirm who it was. Yet instinctively, the thought dominated her mind that she should not do that. Somehow, it seemed like she should pretend to be asleep.
Before she knew it, her hand concealed under the blanket began to tremble.
An unmistakable sound brushed her ear. She tightly shut her eyes and bit her lip. There was no longer any room for doubt.
‘… They’ve come to kill me.’
Since the first day she set foot in this land, someone in Machi disliked her. The bitter hostility pointed at her throat. Should she open her eyes and scream now? No, was that even possible? Before she could even open her mouth, wouldn’t her throat be pierced by the blade?
Elfreda couldn’t figure out what to do. Suddenly, a hot teardrop rolled down the side of her eye.
She didn’t want to die.
If that was the case, maybe she should try reasoning. If they spared her, she would comply with whatever they wanted. She had to stay alive somehow.
Elfreda slowly opened her eyes.
Amidst the pitch-black darkness, a dim candle revealed who was in front of her. A masked figure as dark as the night was pressing a blade against her throat.
She struggled to remain calm as she opened her lips.
The masked figure seemed even more surprised by her calm demeanor. She took a short breath before pleading in a weak and feeble voice.
“If you spare me, I’ll do whatever you want.”
“All I want is the annihilation of the barbarian.”
The expression that seemed like it was a fixed thing. Elfreda’s breath caught in her throat at the intense hatred emanating from the figure’s exposed eyes. She realized that she couldn’t escape her fate and despaired.
Finally, the figure raised the blade, and she stopped breathing, closing her eyes once more.
A sharp scream echoed.
Soon after, a heavyweight and thick blood soaked through her chest… but none of it was hers. Elfreda trembled as she barely opened her eyes.
The suppressed scream burst out.
The figure who had aimed the blade at her just a moment ago, the figure who mercilessly raised the knife despite her plea, was now sprawled before her, bleeding profusely. The warm blood that had been vividly alive just moments ago seeped into her neck, causing her whole body to convulse.
Elfreda let out a breath and shed tears as warm as the blood of the deceased.
Through teary eyes, the suddenly bright sun appeared. She struggled to open her eyes and blinked twice, yet the golden sun remained unchanged.
Wiping the blood off his radiant golden hair, the man murmured. It was a crazy thought entirely unsuited for the situation, but the low tone of the voice, which she heard for the first time, was comforting.
Elfreda met the man’s gaze.
Despite her lying down, the man looked quite tall. His deep green eyes, gazing at her indifferently, had a noble air, and his nose, showed by the light, was as sharp as a sculpture. The lips beneath them were delicate as if drawn by a brush.
He looked like a painting drawn on rich-colored velvet.
“It’s a hassle to find another bride.”
The following words revealed his identity.
Elfreda struggled to breathe and met the man’s gaze. Her consciousness was in jeopardy as if she would collapse at any moment. Still, she felt she had to say at least this before losing consciousness.
“Thank you….for saving me.”
Perhaps it was an unexpected first word.
With the man’s smile as the last thing she saw, Elfreda closed her eyes completely. She was certain that he wouldn’t save her just to kill her afterwards.
Ironically, this man was the person she hated more than anyone else in the world.