Episode 1 - The Knight Becomes a Lady
The floor was stone cold against her cheek. However, slowly, the cold sensation began to fade.
Blood was pouring out of her mouth, and she felt a searing burn in her stomach, as if there was a fireball torching her intestines.
Blood was flowing from the wound, ebbing away onto the floor.
She tried to move her trembling lips, but no voice came out as her vocal cords had already ceased to function.
All Estelle could do was express a question with her eyes.
‘Why the hell?’
Estelle opened her eyes and looked at her murderer. Her vision was blurry, but she could see the legs of the man standing on the floor. She tried to look at his face, but she no longer had the strength to lift her head.
“To be alive after being stabbed with a poisoned sword, you are surely the commander.”
His voice was soft and sweet as always. His long fingers brushed Estelle's hair across her face as it turned numb.
“Kha… … li… ….”
“Hush, it will hurt more if you speak, Estelle. You should just die quietly.”
His fingers moved slowly from her ear to touch her blood-stained lips, as if he wanted to feel the last breath she exhaled.
She had once thought about whether she would accept her death with dignity or if she would still cling to life in the face of death. However, she could not afford such reflection at the moment.
She couldn't even think about the fact that if she died, her country would surrender to the enemy country of Yansgar, that each and every knight of Ersha would be killed, or even that the death she was facing right now would be a sad joke, like the insignificant death of a stray dog.
Nothing was more important to her than the betrayal she suffered now.
The traitor was gently touching her lips. Her breath became rougher, and her body was shaking with pain.
‘Khalid, why you? Why you, who found me? Why? What's the reason? Why? I was even willing to give up my life for you. You were the one who helped me hold my first sword. You were the one who made me into a knight.’
‘You were my friend and comrade through life and death. Even though we did not share the same bloodline, you were my only brother; you were the man etched into my life like a bright light. Yet you betrayed me, Khalid. You turned against me!!’
Soon, her vision turned dark as she lost her sight.
“Farewell, my Ishtar.”
With a gentle farewell from her killer, Estelle closed her eyes.
‘Damn old man!’ Jed gritted his teeth hard. ‘I just came back from the war against the Mamul monsters. I suffered so much already, so what is this shit?’
Jed's reddish-brown eyes flashed. He was in the worst mood, but there was no one in this world to blame. The old man had reached the end of his God-given life – simply put, he died of illness.
The old man being referred to here was Jed's father, and the Duke of Heint, no, the late Duke Gaspar Heint.
Jed had had a strange feeling that morning, and he was on the battlefield when the sudden news of his father's obituary reached him.
Jed would not have to deal with the emotional toll of losing his father, holding the funeral, receiving his title, being greeted by his vassals, and swearing an oath of allegiance to the Emperor.
Inheriting the title of Duke at the young age of 27 was not the only nuisance, the will of the late Duke presented an even bigger problem.
The will was sealed in wax with the signature of the late Duke and the mark of the family crest.
On the shiny parchment made of high-quality material, along with the family's seal, there was not one but three seals of the high priests.
Of course, this will had been written by three honorable, no, abominable priests which meant that no one could refuse to fulfill the will. If Jed refused, he was standing against the will of God; he would not be able to retain his name, let alone a title.
The contents of the will were very simple. He was to marry the young daughter of Count Aydin. Despite the simple words, the reality of it was not at all simple.
Jed suddenly ended up with a fiancée. It wasn’t that he didn’t like women. Jed was picky about women he would allow near himself. Of course, he had plenty of pretty girls around him, but the beauty of the Count’s daughter was not the problem. It wasn’t about that.
Her name was Lucifella, and she was well-known for her beautiful appearance, enough to be dubbed the ‘Morning Star’ of Yansgar. She had long and covetable hair in the color of the night sky, a pure white face, and silvery blue eyes that resembled the sparkling stars.
She was now twenty years old. Twenty years old. She was seven years younger than him, but considering that an average woman of Yansgar got married before the age of twenty, she was considered older. The reason she couldn’t get married was simple. She had a dreadful personality.
Count Aydin had stayed a widower since his wife’s death, and his only daughter had been quite young at the time. The problem was the manner in which this Count raised his child; deeply devoted, cherishing her as a precious gift, constantly worrying about and catering to her, and focused on even the most minor details to ensure her well-being.
As a result, she grew up spoiled and developed a terrible personality, and now the infamy of her tantrums outweighed her beautiful appearance. The rumors had spread fast and wide among the aristocracy. Besides all this, the most recent rumor was critical.
‘There is a rumor of an affair with His Highness, the Crown Prince.’
The phrase ‘there is a rumor’ may sound simple, but what it entailed was quite shocking.
The rumor said it was not an innocent romance, and that they had explored each other in intimate ways. If the details about them making out in the bedchamber could reach even his ear, then Jed could guess what their relationship was like.
The result of the relationship between the vicious prince and the vicious daughter of the Count was obvious. She eventually was dumped by the Crown Prince and tragically became a laughingstock.
While Jed was busy with his father's funeral and the aftermath, he had heard that she had jumped into the Imperial Palace Lake, attempting to commit suicide either out of protest or from the heartbreak caused by the Crown Prince rejecting her at the Imperial Palace banquet.
And she was still unconscious. Hearing that rumor, Jed remembered finding himself snickering despite his own circumstances. Someone else's father had died, but she had tried to take her life so lightly.
Wasn't it ridiculous? He had seen one of his knights attempt suicide as a last resort to cling to a woman he had been dating who rejected him. Of course, by hanging him upside down and beating him until the knight begged him to let him live, Jed made the knight come to his senses.
Jed hated that kind of thing whether it was a man or a woman. Others would say that such a notion would be romantic, but it was simply ugly to cling onto an emotional feeling like that.
The woman abandoned by the Crown Prince, scorned in social circles, was now his fiancée. His father was indeed mean as ever. He cursed his father once again.
“It is said she woke up a few days ago.”
“The daughter of Count Aydin,” Deputy Chief Bernard stated. Jed grimaced. Still, he had enough conscience not to think that it would have been better for her not to have woken up.
“Does Count Aydin know about the engagement?”
“By now, the priests would have announced the contents of the will and delivered it. As long as the name of the temple is involved, the will must be executed.”
Damn interfering shit.
It was highly likely that Count Aydin did not know about the engagement until the will was revealed. Lucifella would not have dared to sleep around with the Crown Prince with the Duke of Heint as her fiancée.
Count Aydin... Jed pondered.
Count Aydin was a cousin to the deceased Empress, the Crown Prince's mother. That said, he was from one of the clans that openly supported the Crown Prince. Was it because his father wanted him to support the Crown Prince? He couldn't figure out why his father would have done something like this.
He sighed. Of all people, why 'that' kind of fiancée?
“I can’t even break it off,” he mumbled in displeasure.
Bernard too sighed at his master's anguish. There was undoubtedly a way to end the engagement, but it was only possible with the consent of both families. Count Aydin, who now had a leash on the Duke of Heint, would never break the engagement.
“Tell them that I will visit in two days.”
When she opened her eyes, the first thing she could see was bright sunlight and a fancy chandelier. Estelle blinked. She tried to recall what had happened to her.
She and Khalid had gone into the conference room to talk about operation strategies. After the discussion, Khalid had suddenly said that he wanted to hug her. When she had tilted her head and held out her arms, Khalid's poisoned sword had pierced through her stomach.
But she was alive. She was alive. With that realization, there was a feeling of joy.
‘Khalid, you bastard! You pretended to kill me!’
When she thought about it, that was the only explanation. There was no reason why Khalid would kill her. Not him. Estelle smiled, lying down.
Khalid had always been like that. As if to test her loyalty, he continuously did things that would disappoint her but would always reveal later that he had been faking it. He had a mean side to him; he enjoyed toying with her to see her different reactions.
Until one time she got so mad at him that she punched him in the face. Then he stopped doing things like that.
This, too, must have been a strategy for him to save her. He had deliberately pretended to kill her and then brought her here. Hopefully he hadn't taken her with him on purpose just to flee the battle. At that time, she had been clearly prepared for her death. No matter how she tried to view the situation, that was the only conclusion she could reach.
'If that is true, you are dead, Khalid.'
Estelle grabbed the blanket tightly and got up from the bed. She didn't notice that her hands were not callused but soft and white.
Estelle saw the red duvet that was covering her body.
‘Oh my God, whose mansion is this?’
The blanket was silk with a subtle pearly luster. Estelle caressed the blanket with her hand without realizing it, finding it pleasantly soft.
‘What kind of wealthy aristocrat has such luxury in wartime?’ Estelle thought disapprovingly, frowning. Besides, where was her sword? Well, the answer was obvious. Khalid must have hidden it somewhere, worried that she would go wild with anger when she woke up.
Then, her door swung open, and a maid came in. The maid's outfit was somehow foreign, but Estelle ignored it and smiled, glad as she was about to ring for her. But when the maid saw Estelle's smile, her face paled.
“Oh, Miss, I’m sorry! I didn't know you were awake!” she said.
She saw the maid’s terrified face, but something else caught Estelle’s attention. What did that maid just call her?
Obviously, the word shocked her. After moving into Khalid’s house at thirteen years old, she had never heard the word “Miss." No, she had actually heard it a few times, but only in a condescending tone, so if anyone called her like that, she personally knocked them down a few notches.
“I, I have failed you, I deserve to die. I should have been waiting ahead of time.”
Seeing the maid kneeling, Estelle grimaced.
‘What is this? Why is she acting so subservient?’ She didn't like it when she saw a girl younger than her acting like that.
When she spoke in a calmer voice, the maid's face brightened. ‘It's not as if I saved her life. Is it that great?’
“Than… thank you.”
The maid got up, fretting as she furtively glanced at her. She was overly polite. After all, they were from the same commoner background. Although she was used to being stared at, this was the first time she was experiencing something like this.
“How long have I been sleeping?”
“You passed out for three days.”
"Really? I slept a lot.”
"The Master was distraught."
“Master? Who is he?"
Estelle, of course, was asking about the owner of the mansion.
"My Lady's father."
Estelle tilted her head. The maid seemed to have misunderstood something.
“Yes, the Count… Miss?"
Noticing Estelle’s confused expression, the maid’s face clouded with anxiety.
She had no father. No, she didn’t know her father. So, what father? They seemed to be talking about two completely different things.
She felt black silk against her shoulder, but when she tried to grab it, it slipped from her hands. When she realized that it was her hair, a few moments of bewilderment passed.
Her hair used to be short and gray. There was no need for long dark hair with such fine texture. How could she have such long hair? Estelle couldn’t figure it out.
“… … Can you bring me a mirror?”
She struggled to speak softly, but her lower lip was trembling. She looked at her own hands and found them to be smooth, her nails shiny as if she had never held a sword before.
The maid brought a mirror and she saw herself in the mirror - no, she saw a woman who wasn't her.
Contrary to her short and wayward tangled hair, the woman's hair was soft black. Her face was white and milky, enough to question whether it had ever seen the sunlight.
And the most beautiful feature was the eyes. She had almond-shaped eyes, and they were a clear and sparkling silvery blue that was reminiscent of diamonds.
Estelle could have sworn that she had never seen this woman's face before.
When she blinked her eyes, the woman in the mirror also blinked hers. It had to have been some type of magic. Was she actually looking at her own reflection?
“What is this place? Answer me.”
“… … ?”
“Where are we? Where's Khalid?! Hurry up, answer me!”
Anxious, Estelle lifted her body and grabbed the maid's shoulder, shaking her as she yelled. This couldn’t be. This was not her. Then what was this? What had occurred?
"Oh, My Lady, please calm down! Miss!" the maid cried out, trembling with fear.
Estelle was gasping for breath. She looked at her own slender wrist. It had to be a dream, a dream. Estelle grabbed her hair and pulled as if she wanted to tear it off.
“Miss, that’s the hair you cherish the most!”
“What have you done to me? Khalid, call Khalid!”
“Who is he?”
“Khalid, Khalid Gabrine!”
"Who is he? My Lady, there is no such person!"
“Then tell me, what have you done to me now?”
“Ah, there is something wrong with you, Miss! Jessy! Jessy! Hurry and get the doctor!”
Everything was becoming distorted. Estelle barely managed to keep her sanity. Come to think of it, this place, the clothes the maids were wearing, everything was unfamiliar. In addition, the maid used Yansgarian-style phrases.
“Where am I?”
"… … It's Her Ladyship's house."
“I’m talking about the country.”
“It’s Yansgar. Imperial Yansgar. This is Greenhill, the capital.”
It couldn’t be. Yansgar was a kingdom, how could she call it an empire? It was blasphemy. Besides, Yansgar was the enemy she had been fighting a war against until she fell. Was this the enemy compound? If so, she needed to find a weapon quickly.
The maid was so bewildered that she didn't seem to notice she was using an Ersha dialect.
She was now in the middle of enemy territory. She needed to quickly find Khalid and go back. However, that goal was soon to be shattered.
"What happened in the battle with the Ersha Kingdom?"
Upon hearing her question, the maid realized the seriousness of her Lady's condition.
"Miss, you must see the doctor for sure. The Kingdom of Ersha was destroyed!"
“Ersha was destroyed?”
Ersha was her country, the country she had tried so hard to protect. Estelle sat in shock.
“What year is it now?”
"It's year 729 of the Yansgar calendar, My Lady."
Fortunately, the maid was answering all her questions one after another. She tried to do the math in her head.
Three years, three years had passed. It had been three years since the moment she last remembered.
“When did Ersha perish?”
“Three years ago.”
No, it couldn’t be. Estelle looked around her.
‘Khalid, where did Khalid go? What about me?’
She got out of bed. She wouldn’t accept these lies.
"My Lady, where are you going? You must rest!"
“… … Let go of me!”
Estelle reached out her hand and tried to push her away, but the maid was strong. No, she wasn't strong. Estelle's present body was overly skinny, making her weak. There was no way for her to have any strength with such a frail body, so even a girl could contain her.
She panted from the effort. She struggled to get away, but even that wasn't easy. Still, she tried her best. She had to go to Ersha right away.
The door opened and a man came in and grabbed her. She couldn't even get free from a girl, let alone a man! Eventually, she was so drained of energy that she fell to the floor.
"Oh, Lucy, it's okay. Daddy, Daddy, is here."
“… … .”
The wild beating of her heart from the excitement was slowing down. Estelle blinked her eyes. Embraced against his warm chest, she looked up at the man's face. He resembled the woman in the mirror.
His hair was blonde, but his eyes were the same color as hers. She could feel the affection in his gaze as the man looked at her warmly.
"Who are you?"
Even though she knew the answer, she still asked because she wanted to confirm.
The man's face filled with sadness. Estelle had never received such a loving gaze before as she had no memory of seeing her father, not once in her entire life.
“Can’t you remember Daddy?”
Estelle shook her head very slightly. Was it really that she couldn’t remember this man, or was she just in a dream?