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   A great commotion of footsteps came thundering in behind Sir Leonhard, about ten seconds too slow, and Royal Guards surrounded Niklas and Hilde.

   “Summon a physician! Our top priority is treating her injury!”

   After quick confirmation that Hilde was concealing no weapons, a female guard began staunching the blood flow. Hilde’s pallor was terrible, but it didn’t seem to be getting worse.

   Niklas, on the other hand, had all of his weapons taken away with the exception of his ceremonial longsword. He offered no resistance, both hands held up in surrender, but he didn’t look like a cornered man.
   Finding his behavior suspicious, I was watching him when he raised his gaze and met my eyes.

   “Your Royal Highness…my deepest apologies.”


   What in the world did he intend to say after we’d already reached this point? I stayed on alert as he began to bow in my direction. The guards around him stopped him before he could step closer.

   “I only wished to protect you, Your Highness, but it seems I stepped out of line.”

   What the hell was he getting at? I couldn’t understand him at all.
   Without giving me the chance to catch up with my thoughts, Niklas vehemently began arguing for his case.

   “I suspected that woman was aiming for your life, and was driven by the circumstances to act quickly. Due to my lack of experience, I exposed your royal self to danger…what can I do to prove myself?” he appealed to me with zealous passion in his voice.


   Even his expression looked like it was begging, and the Royal Guards surrounding him looked on in bafflement.

   “The woman bore me a grudge. Perhaps that is no ground to support my cause, but if nothing else, I must ask you to believe me in my sincerity. I…would never so much as turn traitor to your honorable self.”

   Ahh, I get it now.

   Because of his devotion to me, my loyal knight couldn’t allow the traitor escape, and went on a rampage. Or something.
   Cornered, the woman resented him and tried to drag his good name down with her as a fellow conspirator, but that was a lie. He was completely innocent! Or something.

   That was how he intended to talk his way out, with his shabby little drama.


   Don’t look down on me—!

   Rage welled up from the depths of my soul, so strong vertigo hit me.

   You piece of trash…!!!


   I won’t let you get away with that poor excuse! I almost screamed, but I stopped.

   Was it my imagination?

   …no, it wasn’t.

   I looked at the ground and exhaled.
   Calm down, collect your thoughts, I repeated to myself.

   Why would Hilde appear in front of me in the first place?

   Except, Niklas also had nothing to gain from killing me, and what just happened in front of my eyes may have been a poor show put on to make me to think that. Or, perhaps he had gotten close in order to use me as the hostage piece to control Lutz.

   If that was the case, then he must have been watching us somewhere.
   And in the exact same way, Sir Leonhard with his fortuitous timing had done similar surveillance, but on Niklas, not me.

   In other words…
   In order to reel in the big fish hidden in the deep…in order to lure out Sckellz, the war-mongering nation, this wretch was gonna go free.


   Was it by my father’s command? Or perhaps, my older brother?

   But, however ignorant I might be, one thing was apparent.

   Even if I threw a tantrum right here, right now, not a thing would change for the better.

   “I see,” I said in a calm voice, keeping my rage locked inside. Moving my stiff muscles, I forced my face into a smile.

   Smile, Rosemarie. You can’t let your face become unsightly now.
   If you’re just a useless burden holding everyone back, the least you can do is show them a smile deserving of a princess.

   “So you saved me?”

   “Your Royal Highness…!”

   Relief spread across Niklas’s face.
   Was I convincing enough? Did I look the part of a young girl showing her gratitude to the knight who had saved her?


   Under my crossed hands, my nails dug into my palms.

   So that my disgust did not mix in, I carefully controlled my voice.

   “Thank you.”

   It was the first time my spoken words had ever meant the exact opposite of my true feelings.
   While I was thanking him, inside I was screaming, “Go to hell, you fucking bastard!”

   “I am not worthy,” he said in a carefree tone.

   I resisted the urge to punch him in the face, and turned my back on him.
   I wanted to get away from this filth as soon as possible. I almost began to run, but I reined in my impulse and moved through the passageway with measured steps.

   Just as I was about to turn the corner, allowing the great noise behind me fall to an almost inaudible level, I was stopped.

   “Your Royal Highness.”


   I swallowed, and reflexively came to a halt. Mentally, all I wanted to do was run away, but I couldn’t bring myself to brush off Sir Leonhard.

   Since when did he replace Klaus?
   I had been so desperately focused on myself I hadn’t noticed.

   “Yes?” I answered him as tranquilly as I could.

   Please ignore that bit of hoarseness in my voice. Forgive me for not even turning around.

   It’s not that I was giving him the cold shoulder—I couldn’t look back.

   I didn’t want to show him such a pitiful face.

   The sound of his footsteps got closer.


   Don’t come here. Please, stop.
   Perhaps he heard my wish, because he stopped, distant enough his quiet voice barely reached.

   A hush fell between us.
   After hesitating for a short while, he sighed.

   “Your Royal Highness,” he said again. “I am truly sorry.”


   I tensed at his unexpected words. Why?
   Why was Sir Leonhard apologizing? The one who should apologize was me.

   “Please leave the rest to us,” he said, ending the conversation and leaving me in the lurch.
   Not even considering the disastrous state of my face, I turned around, but I was too late. He no longer faced me, already leaving.

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