“…Greetings, Your Majesty.”
Elfreda concluded her greeting with a formal tone. Ejnar released her, who had a bewildered face. He didn’t put her down that hard, but her swaying body, due to the recoil, was delicately precarious.
Tsk, Ejnar clicked his tongue once, caught her again and steadied her on the ground.
“You’re not even a piece of paper*, and yet you stagger.”
[ T/N: 종잇장 lit is a piece of paper, but he meant to say that she was very skinny. ]
The metaphor wasn’t an exaggeration.
The body of the woman he had held in the pond that day was as light as a mannequin. Somehow, today seemed lighter than before. They say she was devoting herself to the queen classes and even skipping meals.
He gave her a narrow glance. Undoubtedly, she seemed to have more sunken cheeks than when he first saw her.
“Where are you going?”
Elfreda swallowed and answered.
“I’m going to Tem’s Palace.”
“With that body?”
He immediately scoffed.
“You’re not just going to fall like a dried leaf on the way?”
“Don’t be stubborn. Go back to where you originally were.”
She knew that the ‘original place’ was the room she had just left. However, it sounded like returning to her homeland of Makaeri, which made her heart ache even more. Elfreda’s eyes, unbeknownst to her, welled up with tears.
Ejnar felt a sense of awkwardness at her reaction.
“Princess, you’re noble. Should I speak more kindly and politely?”
It wasn’t really the problem, though it seemed like a misunderstanding. Elfreda quickly shook her head. However, he continued teasing her.
“Do I have to carry you again this time?”
Elfreda replied without even looking directly into his eyes.
“I can go alone. It just seems like I would be a nuisance…”
“You seem to be having some misunderstanding.”
He pointed out with a wry smile.
“Going there with your body would be more of a nuisance. Someone would have to move you again.”
At his words, she recalled what Ilene had said.
“The King personally brought the Princess.”
At first, she was confused about whether he personally brought her to save her or simply ordered someone to do it. Still, she clearly mentioned ‘personally’ carrying her. From the garden to here, it was too far for him to walk, but there were other palaces nearby.
No… Looking at it differently, it still didn’t make sense why he personally brought her.
Only now did the confusion dawn on Elfreda. The fact that he twice saved the granddaughter of his enemy seemed to be a political issue, but it was truly strange that he didn’t use someone else’s help.
“Thank you for that day.”
Nevertheless, expressing gratitude was the first priority.
As she spoke, Ejnar’s gaze on her became more intense. Elfreda felt like she was sinking into a rising puddle, but she managed to keep her voice calm and continued.
“I apologize for being a nuisance in various ways.”
For the events of last night, the first night here… her heart trembled coldly as she realized that she had become the bride of the man whose family her grandfather had killed.
Ejnar murmured in a monotone voice.
“It’s something that happened while trying to avoid a person you don’t want to see.”
“If there’s a reason, then so be it.”
Elfreda, who had become somewhat stunned, hastily denied,
“It’s not like that….”
However, at that moment, her eyes met with Ejnar’s. Those deep, dark green eyes seemed to be questioning if it really wasn’t. Elfreda involuntarily swallowed dryly. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t wrong, but expressing that it was unpleasant.
What she didn’t want to face was, in fact, because he might feel upset at seeing her rather than herself. So, she didn’t want to be more hated by that.
“…I have unnecessarily stood out in Your Majesty’s eyes.”
Elfreda honestly justified herself in a small voice.
“I didn’t want to incur Your Majesty’s wrath.”
Despite the fact that there was embarrassment in her statement, it was better than him having an unreasonable misunderstanding.
In the end, Elfreda lowered her eyelids to avoid his gaze.
Rather than contemplating love, it was an odd relationship where she had to think about not incurring hatred.
“That’s all. How dare I…”
Elfreda stopped herself from continuing and let out a dry laughter as if to say it was nonsense.
“How could I hate Your Majesty. It’s a shameless thing to do.”
At least, she didn’t want to be remembered by him as such a shameless woman. If there were only one wish, it would be that. He might think she’s shameless if he sees her.
Ejnar’s gaze felt piercing.
Since she still kept her eyes on her toes, she couldn’t decipher the meaning of his gaze. Or rather, she refrained from doing so. Surely, it wouldn’t be a kind gaze. Elfreda decided to continue acting like that. It seemed better not to see him.
A long silence flowed.
Elfreda wondered if there was something she said that might offend him. However, she didn’t feel right. No matter what she said, she couldn’t help but be a presence that offended him.
The voice saying that did not sound resentful. Elfreda looked up with somewhat surprised eyes. She met his eyes, filled with an unknowable look. She was puzzled because no hostility was visible.
His gaze shook slightly.
Only then did Elfreda realize that she had been with him for too long and quickly lowered her head. She walked past him with hesitant steps, and when his face was finally out of sight, Elfreda realized that her heart had been beating rapidly again.
Even after his face disappeared in front of her, the fact that his face, which had held her before, continued to float in her mind.
Then, the tears that had been well-contained in front of him started to flow uncontrollably.
Something subtly, or rather unmistakably, was going wrong, and Elfreda felt anxious. Even though her vision was blurred, she kept walking without wiping her tears. She didn’t even know if she was stepping properly.
The state of her trembling lips was no longer an important issue. She just wanted to disappear from his sight for now, and this thought rushed her movements.
“Not that way…”
Before she could hear the unpleasant words, her consciousness abruptly shattered. Like a candle that had been flickering was extinguished.
* * *
Elfreda opened her eyes with a feeling that her head was about to split. When she first woke up, she felt better than now, but somehow, she felt uneasy.
“Are you okay, Princess?”
Ilene’s face, soaked with concern, came into view. Elfreda opened her mouth with a remorseful voice.
“I should have listened to you.”
Ilene was right. She shouldn’t have gone out. If she hadn’t… things might not have ended like this. Maybe her body would be healthier, and she would have seen him when her heart was not burdened by the hatred she received here.
She felt unbearable for feeling so foolish.
“Until you fully recover, it’s His Majesty’s command not to leave here.”
“How did I get here?”
“His Majesty brought you here again.”
In the end, it happened, as he said. Elfreda murmured bitterly.
“Oh no… as promised.”