Chapter 22 – Estia’s Crown Prince (1)
Her face turned red, but she replied with a bold tone. She wasn’t used to this kind of conversation, causing her to pat her flushed cheeks with the back of her hands in order to cool it down. Ishakan proceeded to sit down on the fountain’s edge.
“In public, I’ll treat you like a princess. But when we’re alone, can we just act comfortably?”
“The cheeky attitude suits you better than acting like a prim and proper royal princess,” He raised one elegant eyebrow, “Just like that night.”
The words he added carried a significant meaning, but she chose to ignore it.
“If you choose to treat me as a princess, make sure to stay in your limits. Like how you laid your hands on me earlier today—”
Before she could finish speaking, Ishakan suddenly grabbed her wrist. Slyly, he replied as he looked into Leah’s eyes.
“But we’re alone now—so I don’t have to treat you as a princess.”
Are all beasts like this?
Tired of his insolent actions, Leah glared at him, not uttering a single word. But Ishakan’s attention was on something else. He mumbled with a frown on his face.
“Darn it… You’re thinner than before. Are you eating properly?”
Her skinny wrist was remarkably different from his large hand. As a part of the preparations for the welcome banquet for the Kurkans, she had been put on even stricter diet—making her thinner.
Instead of explaining, Leah took her hand out of his grasp. Upon noticing his now empty hands, Ishakan quickly dipped his hands in the fountain.
How odd… Suddenly, he started washing his hands. Did he find her hands dirty then?
She couldn’t believe it. He was so hard to decipher. Why would he do something like that in the middle of their conversation? Leah bit her lip and reluctantly brought the issue plaguing her mind.
“The things that happened that night… Can you keep it to yourself?”
The thought of others knowing her plan scared her. She couldn’t imagine how bad things would get if Ishakan told her secret to others.
Ishakan’s eyes narrowed as he noticed Leah’s desperation. He tilted his head sideways and laughed.
“I don’t know.”
Hearing his ambiguous reply, Leah felt her stomach drop. She couldn’t bear it anymore and cried out.
“What do you want from me?! What—” She exclaimed, but was cut short upon his next course of action.
He’d shoved something inside her mouth, making the whites of her eyes widen. She didn’t know what it was, but she still chewed on it. As she munched on the tender, sticky pulp, a sweet taste pervaded her mouth. Her body felt ecstatic as the sweet taste satisfied the deprivation she’d felt from not eating.
“You need to spit out the seeds.”
His long, slender fingers pried her mouth open, and Ishakan took the seed lying on top of her tongue while he grinned at her.
“That was a dried date palm. Did you like it?”
Her face flushed red as she finally realized what he’d just done. She was engrossed by the sweet taste of the fruit that she couldn’t grasp his actions.
She couldn’t say anything. Confused, she stared at Ishakan, her cheeks still red. He casually pushed another date between her lips, which her mouth accepted willingly.
“I only want one thing.”
As she tasted the strong, sweet flavor on her tongue once again, Ishakan whispered with a dreary look.
“I want you to accept whatever I give you.”
The underlying meaning of his whisper was implicit. Her heart leaped fast. As if possessed by something, Leah delightfully savored the date in her mouth.
Dried date palms were not a staple food in Estia. She had eaten it only once when a Kurkan slave gave it to her when she was still but a child.
That was such a long time ago. So long that Leah could no longer remember the taste of the dried date palm—nor the face of the boy who so kindly shared his food to her.
Savoring it, she felt elated with its unfamiliar sweetness. Sucking every date dry of its saccharine pulp, soon Leah unintentionally sucked her own lips. Hence, emitting slurping sounds to the air.
A tinge of regret lingered on the tip of her tongue.
In contrast to her, Ishakan didn’t find it embarrassing. Rather, he was deeply invested in getting her to consume some nourishment for her frail body.
The probing eyes of the king watched Leah as she feasted on the dates he brought with him. Before he stuffs the fruit into her mouth, she turns her head down and spits the seeds on her palms.
Now that she had finished eating all, she appeared clueless of what she must do with it.
For a moment, he hesitated and reached out his hands. Ishakan grasped the seeds coated with her saliva and instantly hurled it to the bushes.
Leah did not conceive such a stunt right away, hence, Ishakan was fast to supply a quick explanation. “It’s a seed, so it shall be returned to the soil.”
She found no fault in his words, and nodded in acquiesce. For sure, the gardener wouldn’t mind some small seeds littered here in his work area. He probably won’t take notice of it.
Leah wiped her lips and, without a word, drew close to the fountain and washed her hands. While washing off the sticky residue left on her hands, she sneakily took a glimpse of Ishakan.
She found everything about him peculiar. Maybe because he was from a foreign land? Everything that he did perplexed her. Most of all, he utterly ruined her systematic routine for today.
Alas! She realized it too late. Cerdina would be inspecting all the preparations for the upcoming conference. And by preparation, it included herself! My, did she finish all dates knowing that she would have to wear a waist-tight dress tomorrow in front of Cerdina.
Worry was etched on her face as she feared her belly would bulge out.
Despite the train of regrets, she could not resist eating the sweet dates, which melted in her mouth.
When was the last time I had eaten well? She could not even remember it—oh, but she did!
Quickly, the aftermath of their heated night occupied her train of thoughts, the time Ishakan fed her a generous amount of bread and stew. She scowled upon remembering so.
Moving behind her, Ishakan brought her back to her senses when he grasped her hand, to which Leah jolted in surprise. She was even more bewildered when Ishakan put something on her palm. He then gently closed her hand with his, making her clench it.
As she looked down, she saw a box of dates. Leah blinked her eyes as she peered on an evenly arranged dates, enclosed in an elegant box.
Looking at Ishakan’s appearance, he looked as if he devours meat with blood dripping on it. But seeing him carry this box of dates was a bit surprising, looked out of character even.
“Kurkans believe that sweet food can expel bad spirits. I also like sweets. Take my gift along with you.”
As soon as she heard this, she rigidly closed the lid of the box—the delicious dates disappearing under it.
She shoved the box to him. It was a firm refusal. Instead of accepting the box, Ishakan retorted.
“I didn’t put poison on it.”
“It’s not like that. I cannot accept this, so take it with you.”
“Because I am on a diet.” She blurted out.
Ishakan’s eyes sparked with interest, the thought of her starving herself intentionally riled him up. “Diet for what?”
“The reason does not involve you at the very least.”
She didn’t want his pity at all. Instead of letting their conversation take an undesired path, Leah veered the topic. “Why did you come here in Estia?” Gazing at him directly in his eyes, she asked intrepid, “Are you certain that you don’t need anything from me?”
“Of course, I do.” He jerked his head to the direction of the box.
“Eat all of those. It’s an order from someone who knows your weakness.” He touched the corner of the box. The oiled wood was smooth without any scratch. “Should I feed you more?”
Her face stiffened as he chuckled. She absolutely could not be swayed anymore. With his threatening words, she was compelled to accept the box of sweets, and uttered in a cold voice.
“I ask you to forget what happened that night. If you really regard me as the princess of this kingdom, please do not behave indecently.”
“I am pertaining to touching without permission.”
“Be specific. I am an uneducated beast, so I am completely clueless to what you are insinuating.”
“Like suddenly grabbing my arm… or putting your fingers inside my mouth.”
A sly smile rose as the corners of Ishakan’s eyes crinkled. Unable to stop himself, he cracked up with a boisterous laugh. Just as water drops from the mouth of the fountain splattered and disturbed the calm stock water beneath, illuminated by the radiant sun, his laughter too caused mayhem in her.
“You like me putting it in, right?”
Leah squeezed her eyes shut—understanding right away his coarse statement. He was far different from the people she had met before. However, she could not deny that she had always been drawn to people with an unfamiliar background.
She sharply raised her eyes, wanting to snap at him and reprimand him of his lustful temperament. However, her hair suddenly stood as she sensed someone else’s presence…
The sounds of shoes bumping against the poorly paved stones of the garden made her heart race.
She nearly dropped the box as her face turned aghast. A man with the same silvery hair stared at them with a blank face.
He was Leah’s half-brother, Blain.