Chapter 32 – Why Did You Take The Arrow On My Behalf?
Patrizia quickly lifted her head from her knees and turned to the sound. She looked at him expectantly, almost daring herself not to hope. Lucio looked like he was having a nightmare, and a cold sweat had formed on his forehead. She bit her lip, tore off a portion of her undergarments, and used it as a handkerchief to wipe his face. The surest way to avoid nightmares was to wake up. So get up, you.
“Haaa…no…” he mumbled.
His condition was worse than she thought, and terror rose in Patrizia’s heart. She couldn’t figure out what was happening to him. He seemed to have gotten better for a while, but it was clear she really had no clue what she was doing. After a long moment of thought, Patrizia decided to do what her mother often did when her and Nilla had nightmares when they were young.
Lucio groaned as she pulled his head into her lap, and then she began stroking his soft, black hair. She never dreamed that she would ever do something like this to him, but this day was a day of many firsts. Her mother always lulled her to sleep like this, so it should have some effect. Patrizia hoped that it would help Lucio wake up a little earlier.
“Shh, Your Majesty. You’re alright.”
“It’s alright, Your Majesty. Take a slow, deep breath. Inhale, exhale…” Oh, what the hell was she doing? Her cheeks flushed in embarrassment, but she had to do her duty. She continued to stroke him with a gentle touch, singing sweet and tender words from her mouth. She imagined Petronilla or Raphaella freaking out if they saw her like this.
“Shh, Your Majesty.”
Patrizia wondered what this man was dreaming about. She had never given thought to this man’s circumstances or story, but this time she was strangely curious. He could a person sleep while suffering nightmares like this? What kind of dream made a person look this tormented?
She shook her head, realizing that she was being overly emotional. Now was not the time to indulge in such thoughts. For now, she just had to concentrate on helping him wake up. Her expression set, she stroked his cool cheek once again. “Ah…!”
Lucio opened his eyes with a faint groan. Patrizia leaned over and looked at him in surprise. In a moment of panic, she called out to him.
“…Queen?” he responded in a cracked voice, and Patrizia didn’t like the coarse sound of it. He looked up at her with confused, dazed eyes. “Where…where am I?”
“You took a poisoned arrow instead of me, and now we’re in a cave away from the hunting grounds. Now that you’re awake, we have to return now. Are you alright?”
After hearing the explanation, Lucio nodded his head. Patrizia held him sit up. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine. But if I was poisoned, how did I get better?”
Patrizia hesitated before telling him the truth. “I sucked the poison from you myself. That wasn’t enough, so I found a scula herb to treat you. I fed it to you, and now you’re awake.
“Scula.” He looked surprised, but Patrizia continued on urgently.
“Your Majesty, I’ll tell you everything on the way. The palace will be in chaos if we don’t return in time. For your safety, we have to get you back so you’ll get the right treatment.”
Lucio nodded. “Very well.”
Patrizia handed him his clothes which had been drying by the fire. However, she herself was still in her undergarments as she had sent her clothes adrift in the river. Lucio looked at her questioningly.
“What happened to your clothes?”
“Ah…” She tried to think of an explanation, but then changed her mind. “I’ll tell you on the way. Just put on your clothes.”
“You wear mine.”
“Your Majesty.” She didn’t want to argue with him. He was the sick patient here. “I’m fine,” she said emphatically. “You’re the one who’s hurt, Your Majesty. It’s important that you maintain your body temperature.”
She lifted her eyebrow at him. He couldn’t pull this chivalry on her. “Do you know how hard I worked this past half day to restore you back to health? If you don’t want my efforts to be wasted, then do as I say.”
Lucio gave a resigned sigh and pulled on his clothes. Finally, when everything was ready, Patrizia untied Sally and got Lucio and herself on the horse’s back. Patrizia sat in the back in case of an accident, and then snapped the reins.
Sally set off at a fast gallop. The sun would set soon, making it harder to find their way. Even in daylight, it would be difficult to navigate their way back from wherever they were in the deep woods, and they would certainly be stranded in the dark. If the assassins managed to track them, then it would certainly be over.
Patrizia clenched her hand tighter on the reins. “I think someone sent those men to assassinate me,” she said as a casual conversation starter.
Lucio didn’t answer back, and she commented on it.
“You’re not answering. Do you know who is behind this?”
“No. There is one person who can guess. Perhaps you have your suspicions.”
The words in Patrizia’s mouth felt heavy. This was no trivial accusation. She bit her lip before finally confessing to him.
“When you were unconscious, I asked them.”
“I asked the men who was behind it.”
“And they really answered?”
“They were certain that they were going to kill me.” Patrizia kept her voice steady when she asked him her next question. “Who do you think it is?”
“Does my answer matter?”
“Yes. I just wanted to be certain your answer is the same as mine.” Unlike her calm tone from earlier, her voice now contained a hint of anger. Lucio didn’t speak at first, then—
“Rosemond Mary la Phelps,” he replied miserably.
“Am I right?”
“Well then,” Patrizia muttered. “You finally understand it. She’ll do anything she can to hurt me.”
“I don’t know what Lady Phelps means to you, other than that she’s extremely important. It’s more than just simple affection.”
Patrizia could tell in the way Lucio looked at the concubine. There was some inexplicable connection that Patrizia could never step between. She closed her eyes. “Am I wrong?”
Lucio sidestepped her question. “Unfortunately, you have no hard evidence in your claim. Even if I believe in your words, it will be difficult to impose a punishment. It’s the same with anyone.”
“I know, Your Majesty. Even so, there’s a large difference between knowing and not knowing.”
I don’t know what kind of woman you see her as, but she is not a saint. A saint doesn’t hurt anyone. A saint wouldn’t try to take something that belongs to someone else.”
“You are free to continue caring for her. I will not interfere as I first promised on our wedding day. But Your Majesty, I have no choice but to change now. It will be difficult to keep my second promise. I told her that I wouldn’t touch her, but I never promised to sit quietly like a fool if she provoked me.”
“I will do a thorough investigation. If evidence reveals that she committed this crime, then—well, I don’t have to tell you.”
It was the death penalty for Rosemond. She was a baroness who attempted to murder the queen of the country, and also gravely injured the emperor. The sins were so heavy that it was impossible to repay the debt.
Patrizia quietly changed the topic of conversation. “May I ask you something?”
“Why did you take the arrow for me?”
“…You want to know that?”
“Yes, Your Majesty. I’m curious.” She continued her words in a steady tone. “You don’t love me, so there’s no reason to take the arrow on my behalf. But I can’t help but wonder.”
“Let’s say that I have a debt to pay.”
“Debt?” she asked confusedly, and he answered in a quiet voice.
“For what happened before. It couldn’t be made public, but I wanted to apologize instead. So I got hit. Is that a good answer?”
No, it wasn’t. She felt in her gut that it wasn’t the truth, but it was hard to tell because she couldn’t see his eyes. That was probably natural, because even Lucio didn’t know why.
Patrizia and Lucio rode onward without a word, until it was Lucio that broke the silence.
“You said you’d let me know.”
“What?” asked Patrizia.
“The reason why you’re not wearing clothes. You said you’d tell me on the way.”
“I thought you’d be able to guess. I flung the both of us into the river. I disposed of my clothes in the water to get the men off our trail.”
Whether it worked or not had yet to be seen, but they hadn’t encountered anyone else so far. When Patrizia finished speaking, Lucio closed his eyes with a troubled look.