Ch. 54 …I’ve Fallen (2)
She didn’t know how long they galloped through the woods, but it couldn’t last long enough.
Carlisle pulled on the reins and the horse slowed its pace. As a result, Elena was pressed up against Carlisle behind her. Elena looked down to see the tendons on his forearms, and she realized that their bodies were closer to each other than she thought.
“While I want to stay out in the fresh air, let’s move to the carriage from here so we’re less conspicuous.”
Strangely enough, she didn’t see even an ant on the dark forest road. She found she had been enjoying the ride without fear of discovery. She thought it was because of luck, except…
Soon she realized their solitude was only an illusion.
The sound of dozens of horses’ hooves moving through the grass gained on them. The sudden noise alarmed her, but Carlisle spoke in a reassuring tone.
“Don’t worry, it’s only my men.”
Elena was surprised. She knew that Carlisle would never let themselves be discovered, but she didn’t realize that it would be through the sheer force of so many men controlling the forest path they were traveling through.
“You needn’t have done this…”
“I assure you, there’s nothing too great that I won’t do for you.”
So he said, but the scale of it was still overwhelming for Elena. Never had she been treated so reverently. She had already lived a lifetime of hardships once and was not accustomed to the luxurious aristocratic life. But…she knew it was all for her.
His reasons were still unclear to her, but she was not ungrateful.
“But you don’t have to do anything like this from now on.”
Carlisle had no sense in changing his mind.
“Just this once. I am doing this to hear words of gratitude.”
She couldn’t speak. Although she did not know exactly when, they both planned to be wed as soon as possible. Carlisle would be her husband. The thought that they would have many days in the future together like this stirred something complicated inside of her.
It was then that the empty black carriage caught up to them from behind, and the two dismounted horse and transferred to the other transport. They rode along the dark, deserted road, and before long they finally arrived at the Blaise mansion.
“Don’t step outside the carriage in case anyone sees you.”
“…Of course. The ball will be soon, so this may be the last time we see each other before then.”
“Yes. Thank you for all your consideration so far.”
Her experience had been beyond a mere measure of one to ten. Elena lowered her head in farewell, but Carlisle halted her.
“Do not bow to me. Now and in the future, you will be the only person who will stand equal to my shoulders.”
“Even an empress cannot have higher authority than the emperor. Even if I do not bow now, as emperor you will eventually have to receive my respects.”
Elena intended to do all she could to help Carlisle reach the height of power, and would not diminish his authority. Elena would treat her husband highly so everyone would know to do so as well.
“As you say, I will have the highest authority. And I will be in the same position as you.”
Elena gave Carlisle a questioning look. It could be interpreted in some ways, including that the emperor and empress shared the same power.
“You are my future wife. If you bow your head, I will have to bow my head as well. There is no need to be so deferential with me from now on.”
After a moment of hesitation, Elena nodded. She couldn’t fully understand Carlisle’s intentions. In any case, if she becomes a princess, and later an empress, there would be less reasons for her to bow her head. If this was what Carlisle wanted, then Elena would not object. She was his lady.
“…Alright. I will remember.”
Carlisle looked satisfied with her answer. She touched the door handle of the carriage and gave another farewell.
“My Lady…good night.”
Elena glanced at him at his unexpected nicety, but she soon stepped off the carriage and headed towards the mansion.
She suddenly remembered the warmth on her shoulders and realized she left the carriage still wearing his coat jacket. After a moment’s thought, she turned around and saw the carriage was still there. It was the first time she had ever looked back since she parted with Carlisle. She could not see the inside of the carriage, but she had the feeling that he was watching her. She paused, recalling the peculiar heat in his icy blue eyes.
A servant who happened to pass by the entrance of the mansion saw Elena and hurried to greet her.
“You’re back, My Lady?”
At the sudden appearance of the servant, Elena missed her chance to return the jacket to Carlisle. After a moment of hesitation, Elena walked inside the mansion with it. All the way inside, she felt his gaze following her.
When Elena arrived in her room, the first thing she did was look out the window. Carlisle’s carriage had disappeared, but then she shook her head.
‘You’re still watching my back every time we part, aren’t you?’
Despite her curiosity there was no way to verify it. She shook her head to throw off the thought.
She suddenly came to a realization about something. Carlisle’s men were controlling the woods so that no one would witness Elena and Carlisle riding together on horseback. Carlisle knew this, yet still encouraged her to wear a coat to protect her identity from other eyes. The reason why Elena didn’t refuse was because…
‘…I’ve fallen for it.’
Her belated realization threw her into utter amazement. Even a senseless girl would realize that Carlisle was being too good to her. Pulling off the coat, Elena looked at the place where the carriage had been. She didn’t know why something remained in her heart.
The next day.
Mirabelle beamed when she heard Elena’s news.
“Really? So someone will give us dresses?”
“Yes. I don’t think I a custom dress can be finished on time, so I decided to accept pre-made ones.”
“That’s alright. I thought we wouldn’t be able to go to the ball at all!”
Mirabelle’s smile was as pure as the sunshine in spring. Elena worried that she would feel too indebted to Carlisle, but when she saw Mirabelle smiling, she knew it was the right choice.
As Elena and Mirabelle chatted together, Elena noticed that the mansion had an unusual lively energy.
“What day is it today? Why is everyone so excited?”
“Oh, you didn’t know? There will be a festival in the capital city today.”
“Yes, you know the Flower Bridge, the one which had been under construction for a long time? It was completed recently and people are coming out of the palace to celebrate.”
Mirabelle’s voice dropped to a whisper.
“There is a rumor that the crown prince will be there. The maids said one could see his face before the ball.”
Mirabelle smiled, as if she had been expecting her sister’s startled reaction.
“What, were you curious too?”
Despite Mirabelle’s knowing expression, Elena was surprised for a different reason.
The Flower Bridge.
It had collapsed in her last life due to poor construction. The large bridge that crossed the river represented a significant investment by the Imperial Family, but officials took the money unjustly and built an inferior construction. Many people ended up hurt. Fortunately Elena and Mirabelle were not there, but Elena didn’t forget the incident.
That dangerous place…
‘Caril’s going to be there?’
A deep sense of anxiety swept over her as she imagined the worst that could happen.