Chapter 33 – Beginning of a Journey
Leaving Cupihit Mansion, her steps were heavier than ever. She saw Trigger messing about with another groom of the household.
Her ex-husband, Gilbert, had never beaten her. But when she was working at the pharmacy, the local lord had a violent habit with women and a constantly revolving door of wives. This made her familiar with those with different sexual tastes.
So that’s why he’s so war-crazy. This type of men became excited and delighted by blood and violence. Chloe finally understood why the Archduke, who was practically the crown prince of the empire and did not necessarily have to fight, had been out in the battlefield since he was a teenager.
He simply reveled in violence.
“Um, Mr. Trigger, please don’t get this the wrong way. I’m just curious…”
“What?” Trigger peered at Chloe, intrigued by her sudden question.
“If—and I mean if—a slave runs away, what happens? Honestly, I’m just curious.”
“Hm. The law of the empire shows no mercy to war-captured slaves. I heard that they’d get their limbs cut off and fed to animals.”
“But don’t they first get sent to mines or brothels? And if they try to run away from there, then they get killed?” This had been the rule in Elpasa.
Trigger scoffed, “We have so many slaves, that the mines and brothels are already overflowing with them. And given that the empire has been unified through force, there must be a need to prevent slave riots by being as strict as possible. You’re from a defeated country, right? You should count yourself lucky. Oh and actually, I noticed that a lot of Cupihit family’s slaves used to be aristocrats. Are you one of them?”
“No, no way. I’m a slave through and through.”
“Well, you certainly look like it. Anyway, don’t ever try to run away or anything. Given how many slaves we have, we’re really ruthless with them.” Trigger hastened his horses to get Chloe back to Sandra on time. His words brought clarity to Chloe’s mind. Running away meant death.
Now that I’m here, I guess there’s nothing I can do. Let’s just trust my luck and see what happens. She could have spent the rest of her life being miserable at a mine or whorehouse, but she had an opportunity to travel the empire while doing easy, menial work. Even though the idea of working for the Archduke made her uneasy, she decided to stop worrying about the future and do her best for now.
It was far better to do his laundry and go sightseeing all over the empire, than to plot her escape and be killed as a result. Also, given her appearance it was possible that the Archduke thought she was a boy.
I’ve always been more or less lucky. Chloe tried to stay positive.
The combat tournament was finally over, and the long-awaited ceremonial expedition began. If the tournament was a festival for those living in the capital, the expedition was for everyone else in the empire. Any fiefdom visited by the order of knighthood would welcome them with a grand fete, and celebrate for the entire duration of their stay.
Despite the vast expenses involved, the people of the empire – having lived through more than a decade of war and hardship – needed this excitement. The tournament this year had been the grandest one to date. The tournament and the expedition were practically celebrations of the newly unified empire.
Colorful banners and confetti, rooting for the knights starting their journey, decorated the sky of the capital. Everyone cheered in the grand send-off for the men, smartly dressed in their armor and capes.
As the Archduke’s maid, Chloe was moving at the front of the parade. The discomfort in her mind gradually subsided among the cheering crowd and excited members of the expedition. She wanted to start the journey with a happy face, just as everyone else.
But things became challenging once they left the capital. The knights were on horseback, while Chloe and the grooms were forced to travel on foot. What’s more, they trudged forward at the same pace as the horses!
Even though no one complained, the march was not easy. She had been told that they would get only two stops per day—one at lunchtime, and another from suppertime through the night.
The commanders were to stay at local feudal lords’ castles or aristocrats’ mansions. However, the lower-ranking knights and servants would camp outside under a wool blanket. When there were no houses available, the commanders would sleep in tents.
You really can’t trust anyone’s looks. She stole a glance at the man riding his horse next to her. Realizing that he could not see her, she slowly raised her head. She had never gotten a good, long look at him before.
Archduke Graham was traveling on Chsantos, his enormous steed covered in a shiny coat. He looked as robust as his horse.
His profile was perfect—the sight of a handsome knight in shining armor, riding a beautiful black stallion, seemed straight out of a fairy tale. As if proving his status as one of the most powerful men in the empire, every bit of his appearance was impressive.
His hair was deep chestnut, and his eyes were as blue as a cloudless sky, his thick eyebrows framed a sharp, erect nose and a firmly closed, sensual lips.
A handsome and decent-looking man…he really doesn’t seem like that person who could do those horrid things.
But, looks can be deceiving.
Chloe didn’t feel any familial love to the deceased royal family of Elpasa—she never once felt she was part of it. Nonetheless, thinking back how this man’s knights had slaughtered every single Elpasa royalty, she knew that what lies beneath that beautiful face was a hideous persona.
It’s not the time to be gawping at his face. She quickly lowered her head, afraid that he might notice her gaze. She was finally facing the Archduke again. Even though all she had done was to walk beside him, her head down, this was their first meeting since the day he commanded her to look after Howl.
He looks like an angel, but he beats up women, huh? What a waste.
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