After the Rain (8)
* * *
Aristine opened her eyes.
The memories of the past unraveled in her mind, making her feel dizzy.
‘I thought it was a dream…’
She had been so feverish that she didn’t even know if she was still alive.
When the terrible fever receded, Aristine was lying alone in her confined room as before.
She lifted her weak body to look around and found that the kettle had fallen over, drenching a corner of the blanket.
She looked at the puddle on the floor and reached out to touch it.
The water swooshed to the side and the cool sensation of the floor touched her palm.
Aristine’s reflection in the spilled water was her usual silver hair and purple eyes.
In the dream, her hair was blonde, not silver, and her eyes were forest green, opposite of purple.
Furthermore, she also had the ability to foresee.
Hence, she thought it was a dream.
It was quite common to become a different person in your dreams. After all, dreams are where you see your imaginations.
Even that foresight was just things happening as she imagined in her dream.
She thought of it as a dream she had when she was sick and forgot about it.
She tried to forget it.
Because the more she remembered that dream, the colder reality felt.
In that dream, Aristine argued with the boy, plucked fruits from trees, and roasted rabbits to eat.
‘The most common thing was being chased by demonic beast.’
In that place, you couldn’t feel safe, even for a day.
Regardless, she missed the moments they lay down at night to avoid the demonic beasts and share each other’s body temperature.
The stars in the night sky were spread out endlessly as if sprinkles salt.
It was a scene that Aristine, who was confined and lived with only the small sky blocked by a tall wall, never could have imagined.
‘If it wasn’t a dream…’
Aristine jumped up from her seat.
The court ladies were startled by Aristine’s sudden exit form the room, and followed her.
She entered the gallery that she had never stepped into before.
All sorts of art pieces were stored inside, but there was only one thing that Aristine wanted to see.
When she passed through the gallery corridor and opened the inner door, many pictures and portraits of Tarkan were hanging there.
From his wedding photos with Aristine to photos from a long time ago.
Aristine stopped in front of one of the large pictures hanging on the of her walls.
In it, was a young boy looking straight ahead with a taciturn expression.
The court lady, who was carefully studying Aristine’s expression, opened her mouth.
“When His Highness Tarkan went on his first expedition, we were all so anxious so we know how it must feel. But see how dashing His Highness is. This photo was taken after he returned after defeating Murzika, the great demonic beast at age 10.”
To Aristine, her words sounded distant.
Unperceived at first, as if she had just washed ashore and only came to after the cold sea water wet her feet.
Aristine, who was staring blankly at the picture, slowly turned to her court lady.
“…This picture is from when he was 10 years old and defeated Murzika, the Great Demonic Beast?”
“Yes, Princess Consort.”
The court lady smiled proudly.
Aristine turned to look at the picture again.
No matter what angle she used, he looked just like the boy she had seen in her dreams.
That slightly rebellious gaze, and tightly shut lips as if he was dissatisfied.
“And he said it was more than twelve…”
Aristine shook her head at the court lady’s question.
Her mind felt complicated. But it also felt clear at the same time.
She had a mountain of preparations she had to do to help Tarkan, who went off alone to deal with the great demonic beast.
But before that.
“I need a cup of tea.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
The court ladies smiled, looking relieved.
Aristine’s condition hadn’t looked very good since Tarkan left.
Their heart sank when they heard that she had suddenly cried again at the smithy today.
But right now, Aristine’s appearance seemed no different from before.
Her purple eyes, which were staring straight ahead, shone brightly.
“And while having tea, I want to hear about Tarkan’s first love.”
The smiles of the court ladies cracked when the Princess Consort remarked that she wanted to hear about her husband’s first love.
Aristine’s brightly smiling face had never looked more burdensome.
The court ladies trembled and lowered their heads.
* * *
“Princess Consort, it can’t even be called a first love. It’s puppy love…in fact, it was just playing house.”
“I presume it’s just a child that His Highness Tarkan met when he was very young.”
“Ah, by meeting, we mean in the literal sense. They certainly never met as lovers.”
“Even we don’t know the exact details. No one has actually seen the girl and His Highness Tarkan isn’t the type to talk about himself…”
Aristine smiled widely when the court ladies said that.
“For someone who doesn’t talk about himself, it seems he loved that girl so passionately that the entire courtyard found out about it.”
Hearing that, the eyes of the court ladies widened, and they shook their heads.
“W-What are you talking about…”
“That’s not what we meant…”
“Furthermore, it was so passionate that even after all these years, even till he married me, he was yearning for that first love. He never even allowed other women to approach him.”
The court ladies were trembling as they looked at Aristine and they fell to their knees.
“P-Princess Consort, us lowly servants have misspoke…”
“We’d rather you get angry. Please punish us.”
“Rather than smiling like that…”
“Wait, I’m actually smiling though?” Aristine smiled and looked down at the court ladies. “I’m not angry at all. What’s wrong? I’m asking because I want to hear about it. Please, tell me in more detail.”
The court ladies shed tears as they looked at Aristine whose eyes were shining brightly.
‘Your Highness Tarkan, you idiot!’
‘Why do you even have such a first love…!’
‘And those warriors! Why were they having such a conversation then!’
Aristine helped her court ladies to their feet and asked.
“Shall I try guessing? Tarkan’s first love probably started when he was 10, right? After he defeated Murzika, I mean.”
The eyes of the court ladies shook in affirmation and seeing that, Aristine shook her head.
“My, Tarkan…how precocious. Already having such a serious love at 10 years old.”
The corner of her lips curved slightly as she said that.
The court ladies looked at Aristine with puzzlement.
They thought she was laughing in anger but when they truly studied her, she seemed genuinely happy.
“Um, Princess Consort?”
“You’re not angry? About His Highness Tarkan’s…”
“Oh my, why would I be? I just find it cute.”
“R-Right. I see.”
Sure enough, the thoughts of powerful people could never be deciphered.
‘Why was she so angry that day if she’s like this now?’
The court ladies felt doubtful but since she was letting it go, they were also happy.
‘We have to make sure it is a hot night when His Highness Tarkan comes back!’
The court ladies clenched their fists.