After the Rain (24)
* * *
By the time Aristine came out of the barrack tent, it was long past midday.
She was startled by the stares that poured in her direction the moment she stepped out.
Their gazes were very strange.
‘Why do they look like that?’
She felt pricked but it was more of a guilty conscience. The decline of the barrack tent had nothing to do with Aristine.
The wreckage from their broken bed bothered her, but since no one had entered their tent, no one should have seen it.
Aristine tried to stand confidently and asked, “What is the matter?”
“Oh, nothing. Nothing at all…” Jacquelin replied, avoiding her eyes.
His eyes were shaking slightly as he glanced at Aristine. It was obviously not nothing.
“R-Really. Speaking of which, you have to eat. It’s already past lunchtime.”
Since she left the bedroom…no, the tent quite late, so she acted like nothing was wrong and made an excuse.
“Oh, I haven’t seen Khan in a while, and we had so much to talk about that time flew by.”
“Ah, yes. A lot to talk about…of course, there must have been a lot, haha…”
But somehow, it felt like Jacquelin’s eyes became worse. Not only that, but the eyes of the people also around turned even stranger than before.
‘Did you hear that? She said ‘Khan’…?’
‘My goodness, it was ‘Tarkan’ until last night.’
‘What in the world happened last night?’
‘Come on, why are we having love blossom on our sacred battlefield…’
‘If you get jealous, you lose.’
‘I’m getting a girlfriend when I get back!’
The atmosphere was strangely filled with soft whispering.
Aristine tilted her head, ‘Seriously, why are they acting like this?’
An idea arose in her mind, but Aristine thought ‘it can’t be’ and inwardly shook her head violently.
At times like this, she should act even more confidently.
Aristine turned to someone who would always answer her wholeheartedly.
“Ritlen, what’s with the mood here?”
“T-T-The mood?!” Ritlen flinched and looked at Aristine.
And the moment his eyes met Aristine’s, his head turned with a swish.
His nape, exposed beneath his golden-brown hair, was bright red.
“I, I, well, I…”
His olive-green eyes darted back to Aristine’s face. His face was so red that it looked like it would explode with one poke.
Aristine furrowed her brows.
Why did Ritlen’s face look like a puppy whose bones were stolen by the owner they trusted?
“Ah, um, I mean, I’m sorry!”
With that, Ritlen sped away with his tail tucked behind him.
Aristine stared blankly at his back.
Her faithful puppy was running away from her.
She couldn’t believe it.
Right then, Asena walked up to Aristine with the corner of her lips curled up.
“Did you sleep well last night?”
Aristine felt pricked, but she straightened her expression and replied, “It wasn’t as comfortable since I am a stranger here but I did sleep well.”
“Hoho, I see. Then, could you give me the clothes you wore yesterday? I will clean it with magic.”
It was torn.
Aristine couldn’t bring herself to say that and shut her mouth.
However, Asena was not the type to withdraw in such situations. Asena’s eyes sparkled and she asked, “That?”
In the end, Aristine confessed the truth.
“Well, my clothes must have gotten quite worn out during the trip here.”
“I see,” Asena nodded, but she didn’t look convinced at all.
Aristine quickly changed the topic, “Let’s prepare to head back to the royal capital.”
“Pardon? Already?” Asena looked at Aristine with surprise.
That reaction made Aristine wonder if this was really the same person who said she didn’t want to come to the demonic beast plains.
“Our presence here will only get in the way. The longer we stay, the slower the subjugation will be.”
“That is true but…I understand, Your Highness.”
Asena lowered her head.
She wondered if Aristine was okay with separating from Tarkan so fast but that was none of her business.
“For now, can you investigate the state of the transmission stones? The transmission should be military grade with tight security, so its failure is odd. Can you do that?”
“I will do that first. Although I’m not sure how far I can get without much equipment here…”
“Then please. Also—.”
Aristine turned to search for Ritlen with her eyes, then she stopped herself.
‘He looked like he needed some time alone, let’s let him be.’
So instead of Ritlen, she called another blacksmith and gave them an order.
“Show Sir. Jacqueline how to use the barricades and barriers. Since this has happened, I think it will be better to have it used in real combat rather than installing it in a test area.”
“Make sure to emphasize that they cannot blindly trust it since we haven’t been able to test it on the plains.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
While she was busy giving orders, someone pulled her and made her lean against them.
It was Tarkan.
“I thought your waist hurts.”
Aristine looked around in shock. Thankfully, no one seemed to be paying attention to them.
Aristine smacked Tarkan in the chest.
Tarkan smiled and hugged her from behind.
“It hurts, no? How can you go back like this?”
“I have to go back.”
“You don’t want to stay with me more?”
“I want to but…the subjugation will finish faster if I return as soon as possible.”
Aristine lifted her head to look up at Tarkan. “We won’t be able to really be together until the subjugation is really over.”
Tarkan couldn’t hold himself back and pecked Aristine on the lips.
Aristine’s head whipped around in surprise at the sudden loud noise.
“Ha, haha…why did this thing explode? I guess I used too much strength…I’m sorry.”
The army cook looked at the broken bag of flour with helplessness.
One might think he would get scolded for it but for some reason, people were nodding in understanding and comforting him.
“It’s okay. Things like that can happen, of course.”
“I would have burst it too, I get it.”
Aristine was surprised by the tolerant atmosphere.
‘I heard discipline was strict, but I guess not.’
After that, the preparations to leave proceeded in perfect order.
Aristine was impressed and turned to Jacquelin, “I thought everyone would be dealing with a hangover, but they all look fine.”
“Yes, well…something sobering suddenly happened last night.”
“Really? What happened?”
Jacquelin turned his head away, ignoring Aristine’s questioning eyes.
‘What happened, you say. What else could it be?’
He wanted to retort but he held it in.
‘Actually, Her Highness the Princess Consort isn’t at fault here. Rather, princess consort is the victim…Milord is the culprit.’
Jacquelin looked at his respected lord with judgmental eyes.
‘Lower your eyes.’
A silent glance was exchanged, and Jacquelin respectfully folded.
The entourage that was heading back to the border for the portal was escorted by a slew of warriors.
Having them come along brought relief to the faces of the border guards and the others who looked nervous the entire journey here.
The pace of the march also picked up momentum and they reached the border quickly.
Once they reached the confines of the portal, Tarkan took Aristine’s hand.
“Go ahead of me. I’ll follow you soon.”
“Mn. Come back quickly.”
Light was leaking from the portal.
Tarkan couldn’t bear it and kissed Aristine on the lips. The warmth and softness on his lips only lasted a moment.
Soon, the lips and hands that he was touching disappeared without a trace.
Tarkan slowly opened his eyes, filled with a sense of loss and regret.
Instead of Aristine’s figure looking at him, an empty space stared back at him.
Tarkan clenched his fists.
‘I’ll clear everything in a week and go.’
At last, his mind and body were connected with Aristine’s.
Now, there was nothing standing between him and Aristine.
Tarkan thought so.
But the thing is, life tends to stab you in the back at your most secure and happiest moments.
Get more chapters on Patreon~