When Elfreda opened her eyes again, the surroundings were quiet. It wasn’t candlelight but the dawn that illuminated the room.
She blinked a couple of times and slowly rose from her bed.
The back of her neck felt stiff, and her head throbbed. Then, she was instinctively startled as she heard the sound of footsteps.
However, she soon realized it was a different, lighter, and more graceful sound than the one at midnight. Moreover, it was getting brighter in the morning. In the midst of it, Marchioness Magnum appeared.
Her voice sounded as if she knew nothing about the events of the previous night. Elfreda was momentarily bewildered.
A group of ladies-in-waiting appeared behind Marchioness Magnum.
“Starting today, you will receive lessons as the queen. Until the wedding, you will be busy, and you won’t have time to waste.”
Marchioness Magnum’s voice remained soft.
Elfreda was momentarily frozen, wondering if the events of the previous night were just a dream. However, it was too vivid to dismiss as a figment of her imagination…
Lowering her head, she found no trace of blood.
Ah, maybe she has gone mad. Maybe she hallucinated, though the bright sun she saw last night…
Elfreda muttered to herself, recalling the man from the previous night.
“…I almost died.”
“It seems you had a bad dream.”
After casually responding, Marchioness Magnum seemed to have been caught off guard.
“Perhaps the bedroom is still unfamiliar to you. You’ll get used to it gradually.”
“Now, what is everyone doing? Why aren’t you helping the Princess get ready for the morning?”
The ladies-in-waiting, following the instructions of the head lady-in-waiting, started to move busily. While the ladies-in-waiting went off to prepare, Elfreda had some time alone.
Absently wandering around, she suddenly cautiously touched the back of her head, hidden beneath her long hair. Rubbing a bit harder, she felt something. When she withdrew her hand, there were traces of black and red.
She mumbled absentmindedly.
“It’s not a dream.”
She wasn’t insane.
It was just that the people here seemed eager to portray her as such. The bright sun she saw last night must have had the same intention.
Elfreda felt an inexplicable ache in her chest.
It was undoubtedly a ludicrous situation.
* * *
Following Marchioness Magnum’s words, numerous tutors arrived at Thames Palace that morning. Machi language, etiquette, finance management, history, and more… It felt like an effort from Machi to package the ignorant and uncultured barbarian from Makaeri into a presentable queen of the civilized country.
Elfreda decided to comply with their efforts.
Despite it being a rigorous schedule for her, as all the lessons were conducted in the Machi language she had learned in just a few months, occasionally strolling around the large central pond during these late nights helped ease her troubled mind.
The vivid flowers and the tranquil sound of swimming fish gave her peace.
Her time here was suffocating and harsh, it felt distant, like a dream. Elfreda sacrificed almost all her eating and sleeping time to cope with an overwhelming amount of study. Amidst this, she kept silent about the near-death experience on her first day.
It was like that in Makaeri.
His father decided that Elfreda must become a true Machi and ordered all Makaeri ladies-in-waiting and guards to be brought back to their homeland. In reality, it was probably a precautionary measure in case they heard rumors about Makaeri and caused trouble, but it was wise nonetheless.
Given the circumstances, Elfreda, who had narrowly escaped an assassination attempt, didn’t expect Makeri to take appropriate action. Instead, she hoped they wouldn’t turn her into a madwoman, as Marchioness Magnum had hinted.
The bright sun on that night was still indifferent to the one who would become his wife.
This indifference became a reason for her to keep that night’s events to herself, perhaps a kind of test to determine if she truly deserved to be a Machi queen.
Nevertheless, his indifference might be a blessing for her. She pondered what kind of expression she should show when she met him again. She wasn’t planning to approach him with the delight of a real wife just because he married her out of fear or obligation.
That was why she hadn’t visited him, even using the excuse of expressing her gratitude for the events of the first night. She had her own sense of honor, even if what happened wasn’t her doing. Trying to console a man who lost his family due to her grandfather’s actions by making such a move would only be a bitter irony.
Let’s live as if we were dead. If he sees me, he’ll inevitably have to recall his dead family. Besides, if I act like this, he’ll probably dislike me even more.
Elfreda didn’t want to be more hated by him, so living like this would be better for both of them. After all, it wasn’t an unfamiliar situation, even in Makaeri.
With such thoughts in mind, ironically, her vision cleared.
Even in the dark courtyard, a single star was vividly visible. It was only natural that he, as bright as the sun, captivated her. As she suspiciously looked beyond the pond, leaning dangerously over the low railing, it was impossible to doubt any longer.
It was definitely him.
Why was he here? Marchioness Magnum clearly said that he wouldn’t come here.
Elfreda quickly fell into panic. She still didn’t want to encounter him. She anxiously observed his movements, hoping he hadn’t noticed her yet. Fortunately, it seemed like he hadn’t discovered her yet. All she had to do was quietly return to Thames Palace without any issues.
However, just when she thought that, the man’s eyes and hers collided in mid-air. It wasn’t at a close distance, yet their gazes seemed to intertwine tightly like they were pinned together.
Elfreda was engulfed in a momentary feeling as if her breath had stopped.
For the first time since that night when she was covered in someone else’s blood, the man’s gaze came to her mind.
It felt like she had returned to that night.
Her breath quickened, and he began walking towards her. Elfreda genuinely wanted to run away in this situation. When she, with a frozen body, was trying to hurry back to her palace.
Perhaps due to the urgency in her heart, her body was twisted. The misplaced step awkwardly twisted her body, and Elfreda, struggling to move, eventually fell downward.
A strong splash hit, and her body fell to the water.
Water relentlessly rushed into her mouth and nose. Until her breath was cut off and her eyes closed, it continued.
* * *
Her head was boiling like a teapot, and her throat felt like it was being torn apart.
Elfreda groaned, slowly opening her eyes.
After blinking a few times, her hazy vision became clear. She saw an unfamiliar ceiling. Was there such a room in Thames Palace?
She breathed weakly with a dazed expression.
“Ah, you’ve awakened!”
A lively, unfamiliar voice echoed. It wasn’t a familiar voice. When she turned her head, a woman with short brown hair appeared. She seemed to be around her age, but she wasn’t a lady-in-waiting of Thames Palace.
“Just wait a moment. I’ll call for the court physician.”
Without waiting for a nod, the woman left. After a while, a court physician arrived to assess her condition.
“You seem to have caught a severe cold. I’ll prepare medicine for you, so please rest for a while.”
It wasn’t a lie. Her body shivered as if she had a fever, and her muscles ached all over. Elfreda wanted to ask what had happened, but before she could, she began to cough.
“Cough, cough, cough!”
“Oh no, you shouldn’t talk like that.”
Her throat hurt so much that she couldn’t utter a word. She frowned deeply, clenching her throat, and nodded her head.
The brown-haired woman looked at Elfreda with pity and spoke.
“I’m Ilene. This is the Central Palace where the King resides.”
At that moment, Elfreda’s eyes shook rapidly. Ilene, misunderstanding it, smiled affectionately and explained.
“His Majesty the King personally brought you here.”
Hearing the incomprehensible story, her eyes seemed to freeze for a moment. After a while, when she regained her composure, she tried to get up in a hurry, but Ilene stopped her and spoke firmly.
“For now, please rest. The Princess needs more rest.”
“You should listen to the court physician. Your voice isn’t coming out properly now.”
With a sore throat, Elfreda frowned.
She had to yield to Ilene’s touch, but even with her eyes closed, sleep didn’t seem to come. Her heart was beating faster than usual, disturbing her.
Just like before, it was because of the sun that appeared unexpectedly at night.
‘…Why on earth?’
He had saved her twice… The man who should’ve despised and hated her. The man who should have left her to die that day and today. It was regrettable that he seemed to be a more affectionate man than she had thought.