“I think it would be better to leave the child here for a while…and if Your Holiness doesn’t mind—.”
Duke Cassian clenched and unclenched his empty fists.
A profound look graced his face as he seemed to hesitate over something, then he spoke to me like a knight sworn to die on the battlefield.
“I would be grateful if you would allow me to carry and serve you. It will strain Your Holiness to move around in this state.”
I would be grateful if he did that too. I didn’t really want to refuse his request to move me comfortably because I had zero bravado before pain.
When I readily nodded in agreement, Duke Cassian carried me with a hint of surprise on his face.
I knew I was a little heavy.
So, I was taken aback when he approached me lightly and got worried for a moment, but Duke Cassian seemed unconcerned.
He held me properly without touching my wounds and began to move.
I expected some jolting since we were on the stairs, but Duke Cassian climbed the angled steps very steadily.
Both of us were heavily doused with the smell of blood so rather than feeling like the romantic embrace of a man, it felt more like being supported by a comrade from the same battlefield.
I relaxed and leaned against him before asking, “Why did you protect me earlier?”
“Because I promised, my Lady.”
I raised a hand to rub my dry eyes before remembering that my hands were unsanitary, and I put it down again. Upon hearing his thanks, my eyes, which had been staring into space, turned to him.
I was obviously questioning his unexpected gratitude, but Duke Cassian just silently looked ahead.
When he remained silent, I followed his tightly shut lips and fixed my eyes on his excellent face. For a good while, he didn’t respond.
When I started wondering whether he was intentionally ignoring me, Duke Cassian’s mouth opened with impeccable timing.
“…For your sacrifice.”
By the time he spoke, we were already in front of the door. As he carefully put me down in the hallway, Duke Cassian let out a sigh, but I couldn’t tell if it was from relief or something else.
A deep breath rang close to my ear like buzzing sound.
“Once again…thank you.”
Until the end, he kept speaking without making eye contact. When I realized that it was because of his regret and gratitude toward me, my gloomy view became clear.
It felt a little embarrassing…
“No need. This is my duty and besides…”
To hear ‘thank you’ like this.
“…I get as much compensation for this.”
I felt good.
Very much so.
It felt like he was telling me that everything I did wasn’t in vain.
Duke Cassian took a step back and opened the door with only his hand.
I slipped through the crack in the door and looked at him with a faint smile.
“Thank you for the appreciation. I will leave the child downstairs in the care of an attendant, so don’t worry.”
As I closed the door, Duke Cassian’s expression looked a bit awkward like he had been unexpectedly attacked.
After the door was shut, I figured I should shower first and took off the ornaments on my head.
The temple was silent but after ringing the bell a few times, a nearby attendant hurriedly ran in. After entrusting the child that I saved today to the attendant, I asked them to withdraw.
I would love to be with the child if I could but that didn’t seem possible in my current state.
“What can I do when even my clothes are so dirty that they don’t look white anymore?”
I lamented to myself when I saw my tattered appearance reflected in the mirror.
Since Reneben held the highest authority in the temple before I came, he should be able to deal with the outside matters.
I deflated, collapsing into the sofa like a toy that ran out of power.
The recovery speed of a Saintess was so fast that my back, which had hurt so much that it was difficult to breathe, only smarted with pain at this point.
But it should still take about a week to fully heal…
My stamina had improved since I started training with the paladins, but I wiggled my toes, wondering if my recovery ability had also increased.
I knew I was dirtying the sofa, but I still didn’t want to get up, so I closed my eyes.
As if it was waiting for me to sleep already, the exhaustion immediately engulfed me.
By the time I opened my eyes, It was already midnight.
The noise outside the temple had quieted down and I lay quietly on the bed, staring blankly at the ceiling for a while.
I clumsily blinked to try and clear my blurry vision.
And a beat later, I sat up and fumbled around the bedside to turn on the light in the dark room.
With a clatter, my hand caught the stand, and I scanned the room which had brightening to purple, then I moved my sore neck to check the condition of my body.
The servants seemed to have washed me with magic in the meantime because even the beds of my fingernails were clean.
It made me think it might not be a bad idea to hire a magician inside the temple for the utmost comfort. In addition, my still aching wounds were bandaged like they had been treated arbitrarily.
I put down my lifted clothes and examined the bandages wrapped under the clothes. I could feel their sincerity from their work.
I got out of bed and headed over to the curtained terrace.
Once I stepped out into the refreshing air, my bare feet felt cold.
“Looks like he squeezed out all the use of the magicians.”
I leaned against the terrace railing and looked into the distance.
I could only see the outline but with the little light that the moonlight provided, I could tell that the demolished temple wall had been returned to its original state.
To restore that tall and sturdy outer wall, he must have squeezed every single drop of magic from the magicians who came as reinforcements.
I let out a sigh as I fully leaned on the window.
The weather at night must be getting worse because when I exhaled, white smoke formed in the air.
“It’s so quiet, like nothing happened.”
I stretched out a hand and cut through air.
Every time I looked up at the twinkling stars in the sky, I felt a slightly more at ease.
It was one of the things I loved in this world. It reminded me that I was alive and breathing under such a clear sky that would be hard to find in my original world.
The more I stretched out my hand, the more darkness seemed to envelop it, so I took it back.
“Ng…” I propped my chin and groaned. “There must be so much work to do when I get up again.”
I lazily relaxed, trying to enjoy the sensation of the beautiful scenery as much as I could.
The silence and the refreshing air made me feel good.
I gently closed my eyes and listened to the sound of the wind for a good while, but at some point, I was hearing breathing alongside it.
I spoke without opening my eyes. “Ducal Prince Nestro.”
“You can tell without seeing me?”
He asked like he was greeting someone who just woke up in the morning.
Only then did I open my eyes and move my cold body away from the terrace railing.
“What is the matter this time?”
I thought of getting angry at him for coming here as he pleased, but you have to consider who you’re talking to before acting a certain way.
There was no way such words would get through to Veron.
With the moonlight behind him, his silver hair shone brightly, and Veron stroked his chin, his face hidden by the shadows.
“How do you feel?”
“I wonder…I didn’t expect the Ducal Prince to ask such a thing.”
At my response, his eyes moved and immediately focused on me.
His cold gaze fell on me.
What did he come to say this time? I guessed that he came to say something strange about the princess and I was right.
As expected, he opened his mouth, and that name came out of his mouth.
“Ronella said that she went to the temple to see Your Holiness.”
“Oh dear, I never thought the princess would come to visit me in such chaos…”
“Apparently, she came to help because Your Holiness was injured. But in the end, she was driven away by your priest.”
“I must commend Reneben. Although I’m not sure what the princess is thinking to come looking for me in such a situation.”
I knew now that the princess was not a meek person but an ambitious one. I could also vaguely tell from the Ducal Prince’s reaction that there was something about her that I didn’t know.
I curved my affable eyes in a crescent arc. At that, Veron momentarily fell silent.
“…Does Your Holiness like Ronella perhaps?”
“I wonder. Is there anyone who doesn’t like the princess?”
I didn’t know why he asked such a thing so I replied with a smile, but I couldn’t read the brief change that flashed through his face for an instant.
It was like an unknown chill brushed past me.
Veron lowered his head slightly and a beat later, he opened his mouth. “Ronella is a lovely kid.”
I watched the Ducal Prince with a smile, but I simply couldn’t predict what he was going to say and I focused on his every breath.
“Ronella must only be a lovely kid.”
I covered my mouth with my hand to hide my expression. I lowered my eyes and flashed a smile to act calmly.
“Of course. If Princess Nestro isn’t lovely, who else in the empire can be called beautiful?”
I replied as if I didn’t understand anything.
He looked at me, and I looked back at him.
She must only be a lovely kid, he says? After watching Prince Veron nod, turned around and leave, I clenched my fists at the chill creeping up my spine.
The fact that he could make such an expression for his one and only younger sister. In that moment, his beautiful face was so frightening that words alone couldn’t describe it…this would have to be kept to myself.
As before, the Ducal Prince leisurely turned away and left the temple, walking through air.
At this point, I had to wonder if he enjoyed sprinkling inexplicable snippets about the princess to me. Of course, it was my job to find out what he meant, unless he explained.
The things that the Ducal Prince had told me were too little for form an idea about anything yet.
* * *
My wounds were yet to fully heal but I began working.
“Lady Emilone, perhaps a little more rest…”
“This is unexpected.”
I flipped through the documents, ignoring Reneben’s fidgeting and whining.
I was lying on my side in bed, merely writing on papers, so I forced him to sit down when he kept making a fuss about me overdoing it.
“Everyone is cooperating very actively with my agenda.”
**I just want to note that I’ve been swapping between ‘Your Holiness’ and ‘Lady Saintess’ whenever she’s called ‘Saintess-nim’.
In conversations, using ‘Lady Saintess’ results in an extremely awkward manner of speech. To assuage this, I’ve resorted to using Your Holiness instead.