Chapter 5 - Something Going Wrong
She saw a razor-sharp blade glint through the darkness. The emperor had suddenly pulled out a dagger from somewhere.
‘What… Is he going to kill me now?’
For all her antics wishing for death, she still felt fear in the face of death. The emperor moved like lightning at the moment Cecile tried to scream. She could not even register what happened; what followed had occurred all too quickly. All Cecile could tell was that she was sent flying along with the bedsheet and that the dagger in the emperor’s hand was shot out as well.
“Ghah!” Cecile screamed in an unintended chorus together with a voice that didn’t belong to the emperor. Tumbling to the carpet with a thump, Cecile lay there blinking. And the moment she turned her head around, she let out a shriek. “Ahhhhhhhhh!”
She was struck by the sight of a man with a dagger in the exact center of his throat, glaring ferociously at her. Blood spurted from the man’s wound.
“M-must, complete the mission…” The man had yet to die despite being stabbed in a vital spot. “Must kill Princess Cecile…”
The gurgling man’s hand rose into the air. In his hand was a dagger as sharp as the one in his throat. And that dagger was pointing precisely towards Cecile. Cecile could not even compel herself to dodge; she merely gazed on at the incoming blade. I’m going to die.
‘But why me and not the emperor?’
Wouldn’t anyone think to aim for the emperor instead? Why are you going for me when I’ve done nothing wrong! Her mind was a cluster of thoughts, but none of them managed to leave her mouth.
Just before the dagger landed on her forehead, the man’s body went flying away along with a blunt sound. At the same time, the dagger fell from his hand and rolled to the floor.
She heard a low snarl suffused with fury. Upon hearing that voice, Cecile realized that the emperor had kicked away the assassin. ‘The emperor saved me just now, didn’t he?’
He had done so by tossing her from the bed and booting the assassin just now, too. The emperor was most definitely trying to save her. Now the emperor was taking out more daggers from his belt and began to sling them towards the wall. Cecile lay there prone on the floor, quivering, and beheld what unfolded before her eyes. She had enjoyed reading about this sort of thrilling situation in novels, but experiencing it herself in person, she never wanted to go through something like this again.
Thwok! Thwok! Thwok!
It was surprising enough to see daggers embedded in the wall, but she even heard loud explosive sounds upon their impact. The handles of the daggers oscillated, their blades completely piercing the wall. Even before the daggers turned still, stains began to appear from around the blades. Cecile could soon see that the stains were dark red in color. It was blood. There was no way pigs or cows were in there, so it could only be human blood.
‘There were people in there?’ Just what the deuce was up with this imperial palace? How could people be hiding in such places? Meanwhile, the emperor approached the wall and kicked it violently. It fell apart with a crash, and out came what had been hiding inside, slowly falling forward. Naturally, what came out was a corpse. A corpse with a dagger smack dab in the center of the forehead.
“So this is all of them. They sent fewer than expected.” The emperor murmured.
Fewer? There’s a body on the floor and three daggers in the wall. A total of four assassins, but you say fewer than expected?
Cecile held her breath as the emperor returned to sit on the bed. Cecile set the cogs in her head to motion at the sight of him sitting. What should I do now? Give him a job well done and take my leave? Or do I have to clear the bodies lying around? She was gawking at the corpses, unable to move, when the emperor stood up and strode over to one of them, hoisting it up by the scruff. He picked up the body of an assassin larger than himself, like holding up a doll, and easily tossed it out through the window.
‘So it’s true that he possesses Herculean strength.’ She had not wanted to confirm one of the emperor’s rumors in this manner. A long while after the emperor disposed of the corpse like throwing a pebble, a splash could be heard from afar, like something heavy dropping deeply into the water. From there, the emperor resumed moving again and three more splashes followed up. All of the assassins’ corpses were tossed outside.
“Clean, and just the way I like it.” The emperor murmured to himself in a remark, dusting off his hands, while Cecile looked at the smashed wall and the pools of blood, itching to ask, ‘Clean how?’. The emperor seated himself in a chair by the table and called for Cecile. “Come here and sit.”
Cecile shot forward like a puppy to its master and knelt before him. Her actions caused the emperor to frown, however. Seeing the look on his face, Cecile planted her forehead onto the floor with an audible thump, saying, “I apologize. I was impudent, holding my head up. Please forgive my insolence.”
Gone were her thoughts of wanting to die. She was jolted to her senses after having witnessed a living person die before her eyes. She did not want to leave this room the same way those corpses did. And she absolutely did not want to float alongside them either.
‘I should’ve just behaved obediently!’
Revenge? What revenge! She was aware it was far too late for regrets now, but she was not dead yet; she felt the need to at least try and get out alive. Cecile was remaining still with her head on the floor, thoughts flitting through her mind when she heard a displeased voice from above.
“What an unpleasant sight.”
“I beg your forgiveness. Shall I go a little lower?” With that said, Cecile stuck her limbs flat to the floor. The thin hem of the dress the attendants had put on her had fallen apart before she knew it; her bare chest grazed against the floor and her thighs became bare, but she had no mind for such things at the moment.
“What I mean is…”
She vaguely heard a sigh. The sound spurred Cecile to ponder as to how she could lie down even flatter. Should I just stick my face to the carpet? The emperor got to his feet after sighing deeply. He held her by the waist with his sturdy arms, lifting her with ease.
“Uah!” Cecile exclaimed and went tense, her mind replaying the fate of those corpses tossed out the window. Could it be he was going to fling her out alive? But contrary to Cecile’s imagination, the emperor carefully rested Cecile onto the chair opposite him. Isn’t this like the time when he carried me before the wedding?
Before she could even wonder as to the emperor’s actions, he picked up the bedsheet on the floor and wrapped it around Cecile.
“Much better.” The emperor muttered in satisfaction at the sight of Cecile swathed up like a caterpillar. Do I look that much worse for wear? She wondered. Then how come he left my face in the open? Even though he wrapped up the rest like he doesn’t want to see.
“Finally ready for some conversation. Your condition a moment ago… seemed a little unfit for discussion, you see.”
“When you say conversation…”
“Right. A conversation where I ask, and you answer.”
Isn’t that normally what you call an interrogation instead? Cecile pushed the thought to one side as she fervently nodded. She had to be obedient for the time being.
* * *
Estian gazed at Cecile who was wrapped up like a white cocoon. He could not help but wonder if this terror-stricken person before him was the same woman who had made such bold requests before the wedding. Estian observed her eyes flitting back and forth in apparent nervousness but then noticed the swelling on Cecile’s forehead.
‘How utterly weak.’
Judging by the tinge of red on the swelling, it was apparent that she was going to have a nasty bruise with a lump around the next morning. He felt a sudden surge of discomfort at the thought and muttered, “I should have cut their heads before throwing them after all.”
Cecile made a muffled gasp at his mutter. Estian saw her curl in on herself apprehensively inside the bedsheets.
‘That looks painful.’
A while ago, he had deliberately massaged Cecile’s shoulders and neck to deceive the assassins. He felt the stiffness in her muscles, likely due to tension, and so Estian purposely targeted those areas. And what ensued were the moans he had anticipated.
Cecile had failed to notice at the time, but the moment she moaned, Estian’s body had flinched slightly. He was taken by an indescribable, ambiguous feeling. Was it because of the softness of the skin beneath his rough hands? Moreover, Cecile was dolled up by the attendants for the first night of the wedding; his senses caught a subtle fragrance from her hair each time Cecile tossed and turned in pain.
‘I’ve never liked perfume before, and yet…’
Estian had always held an aversion towards perfume. Such things numbed the nose, after all. As someone who needed to constantly be on guard against his surroundings, they were things he absolutely needed to avoid. Estian moved his hands a little more. After going through so much cutting and killing in his life, he had acquired knowledge in the locations of muscles and how they moved. Thus Estian utilized his know-how and resumed his massage, pressing the spots where Cecile would hurt the most. Moans burst out once again.
He could sense hidden movement beyond the wall of the room. It was certain that the sounds of heavy breathing and moaning had led them to believe the two in the room were indulging in the night. He had been waiting for them to make a move, yet he did not find it welcome at all.
‘If it weren’t for those fools, then right about now I…’
Thinking up to that point, Estian was surprised by himself. If there had been no assassins? What then? He gazed down at Cecile, panting beneath him. Moans slipped through her lips as her body twisted and coiled from the pain of her most receptive spots being pressed by him. Her clothes were disheveled, and her breathing was intense. Tears hung on the corners of her slightly reddened eyes.
Her blonde hair splayed across the bed, glimmering through the darkness of the room, and her watery green eyes were like crystals under the lamplight. Estian was unable to wrest his eyes away from her as he thought about who this woman was.
She was the woman who had come from a distant country to marry him. His wife. And, according to the vow officiated by the pontiff, the woman who would forever be his companion through life. The moment his thoughts reached this point, for the first time in a truly long time, he felt the blood rush to his face. Something, he thought, is going wrong.