A Barbaric Proposal - Chapter 56
Black lowered his voice, kneeling down and glaring at the poor woman.
His voice was low and didn’t carry much emotion, as was usual for him, but the mercenaries who were standing next to him looked at each other as they heard it. He sounded nervous.
[Black] “The sooner you speak, the better. Your son took Princess Rienne, but she has to be alive.”
[Mrs. Henton] “P, Princess…..Rienne….?”
[Black] “If the Princess is alive, I will not kill your son.”
[Mrs. Henton] “B, but…w, why…..”
[Black] “I don’t have time for this.”
[Mrs. Henton] “Ah…..”
The woman gasped, as if she was finally coming to terms with the fact that her son had kidnapped Princess Rienne.
[Mrs. Henton] “H, he’s not here…..I don’t know anything…..He was here for a while but then he left…..I haven’t heard anything since……”
[Black] “Is there anywhere else he would go?”
[Mrs. Henton] “There’s nowhere like that……Ah.”
But then she suddenly remembered something.
The last thing her husband told her before leaving behind the body of their second son. Her husband’s last will and proof of his affection.
The very reason why she was unable to curse her husband, despite how he’d given up their second son to save the royal blood of Gainers, or how he’d even sacrificed himself in the end.
[Henton] –‘There’s a path no one knows about. Access is permitted only to those of Gainers blood.’
Breaking his oath as an honorable knight, he told her of the path she could take to escape.
And like any good knight, doing so would’ve shattered her husband’s soul. Just as seeing her second son’s mangled corpse shattered hers.
[Henton] –‘You’ll be safe there.’
But now her husband was gone.
Her first son desecrated the body of her second, fulfilling her husband’s final request. That was her last memory of him.
[Mrs. Henton] “Nine waterfalls.”
Quietly, Mrs. Henton whispered something only one of Gainers blood could understand.
[Mrs. Henton] “That’s all I know. So please, save my son. Please don’t kill him. Whatever he’s done, if you can just save him……”
The woman bit her trembling lips, her shoulders shaking. Just talking seemed to be overwhelming her.
[Mrs. Henton] “I can’t go through the same thing twice……”
[Black] “Like I said. As long as Princess Rienne is safe.”
As she reached out and grabbed onto him, Black removed the woman’s hand, standing up.
[Phermos] “What do we do now?”
Phermos asked quickly, gesturing down towards the woman. He wanted to know what his Lord intended to do with her.
Listening in on their conversation, it was obvious they knew each other, though they didn’t exactly sound like they were on the best of terms. But nonetheless, this definitely related to Black’s past.
And from the sounds of it, it didn’t seem like Black was trying to destroy his past altogether. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have made any mention of sparing any one’s life.
[Black] “Take her and give her a place to stay for a while. Don’t mix her up with the people of this family.”
[Phermos] “Very well.”
[Black] “Clean up here and return to the castle once you’re done. Set up defenses in case anyone tries to take some revenge for all of this.”
[Black] “Look at what happened. Clearly it’s not too hard for someone to sneak in and do whatever they want. Right now, the priority is defending the castle. There’s too many back doors and gaps that rats can slip through, so don’t let your guard down.”
[Phermos] “I’ll keep that in mind. Will you be moving on your own?”
[Black] “I have somewhere I need to go.”
[Phermos] “. . .”
It must have something to do with that phrase, ‘nine waterfalls’.
Phermos had a mountain of questions he wanted to ask, but instead he quietly took a step back. Besides, Black wasn’t the kind of person to simply answer a question. He only ever spoke about things if he felt it was necessary for others to know.
[Phermos] “I pray you wrap things up quickly.”
Without another word, Black turned on his heel and ran off.
* * *
[Rienne] “…..Wrong again. This isn’t the way.”
Rienne bit her lip.
She was so tired by now, but she kept getting turned around, heading off in the wrong direction every time she checked.
Now she knew why Klimah was so worried.
Her eyes were used to the darkness by now, but that didn’t do much to help her.
Rienne knelt down, running her hand against the ground. She felt around for her own footsteps, verifying the path she’d come from.
[Rienne] “I should head back to where I made that mark.”
This place was like one giant maze, and it wasn’t easy to navigate. A lot of the intricate pathways didn’t even seem like they were built with the intent of making walking comfortable.
[Rienne] “Did I take a wrong turn back when the path split?”
Rienne held back a sigh, giving her weary feet a chance to rest before continuing onward.
And as she walked down that long, dreary path, her mind started to spiral. She started slowly thinking about what her chances were of dying here without ever finding her way.
If I were to die…..What would that man do……?
Would the six families be brought into a massive war once she was gone? But then what would happen to Nauk? So many people would die.
[Rienne] “. . .”
But why didn’t that man do that in the first place?
Was it really only because I asked him not to…..?
Even though she had plenty of time to think about it, no amount of thought made it make sense. Having taken the sweetest reward from the rebellion, the Arsak family could be considered the center of the treason conspiracy.
And yet despite that, the inescapable and contradictory truth was that Black had proposed to her.
There……had to be something she was missing.
Marriage may not have been his end goal. Maybe he was thinking about doing something after that. Something he could only do once he gained control of the nation.
Though, even if his attitude towards her were to suddenly change after they were married, as a sinner, she could not blame him for it.
Whatever he did, she planned on quietly accepting it.
Rienne paused for a moment, lightly closing her eyes.
For some reason, her legs wouldn’t move anymore, as if her messy thoughts were stopping her in place. And whatever strength she had left was not enough to keep herself standing.
As her body swayed, she lifelessly fell to the floor.
Or maybe it would be apt to say that she collapsed.
Wouldn’t it be better if I just stayed here……..?
She was scared. She was terrified that he might change after they were married. But she knew if he did, she would have no choice but to accept it, despite how desperately she didn’t want to.
She was so scared of him.
Scared that maybe he didn’t want her from the beginning.
She didn’t want to know the truth….
It was like her body was just slowly giving up. Her eyes couldn’t stay open as they fell to a quiet close, Rienne’s mind drifting away from consciousness.
* * *
This path was no maze.
For someone of Gainers blood and those who defended them, it was a path well known to both groups. It would only appear maze-like to those who didn’t know the way or if they didn’t realize what it was for.
Black himself had only ever walked down it once before, but even so, it wasn’t confusing to him. It was built to be traversed, but parts of the path were made for something other than people.
So his guess was that Rienne took a wrong turn. For her, this place must’ve seemed like a giant labyrinth. And as someone who didn’t know the way, this was a dangerous and vast place for her to be in.
He felt something in his heart rushing forward, pushing him faster.
Black took a hard turn, veering off the path and silently heading towards higher ground.
Rienne was still in her nightgown, so she would be barefoot, making her footprints harder to make out. But he felt lucky knowing her nightgown was at least white. It would make her easier to spot than if her clothes were darker.
And after an hour of wandering through that thick and impenetrable darkness, pushing himself through the winding paths of the narrow corridors, Black finally found Rienne.
Seeing Rienne helplessly collapsed on the ground, he felt very strange.
The thought that the sight wasn’t right kept gnawing at him. Without wasting a second, he pushed off from the ground, rushing to her to the point of running out of breath, that one thought still pounding in his head.
Though his eyes were seeing it, his mind completely pushed the idea away, as if they were dealing with entirely separate realities. He could not accept the situation that was clearly before him.
She can’t die.
The Princess was on the ground, not moving an inch, and she looked too much like a corpse. He knew better than anyone else that humans died easily. Their lives were fragile, and the smallest of things could snuff them out in an instant.
She can’t be dead.
But to hear that Rienne was dead, it felt like total nonsense. Like some kind of awful, sick, twisted joke.
By the time he finally reached her, it felt like his lungs were going to tear from the pressure, as if one more breath of air would be enough to rip them apart. He didn’t even know it was possible for him to make such a coarse sound.
He knew he couldn’t possibly feel so tired or worn out just because he wandered around for an hour, but for some reason, he fell to his knees—his body unable support its own weight anymore.
Black unconsciously collapsed next to Rienne, immediately lowering his head and pushing it against her chest to check. He needed to hear something, anything to show that she was alive.
[Rienne] “. . .”
And though it was weak, he could hear the soft hum of her breathing.
She’s not dead.
[Black] “……She’s okay.”
Black weakly held out his hands, trying to hold Princess Rienne, but his arms didn’t have any strength left.
The feeling of his body not cooperating was unfamiliar and strange. Even as he tried to keep looking at Rienne’s face, his eyes kept drifting down towards her nightgown.
But he realized the reason now.
Her nightgown was too dirty. Even if it was white and dirt was easy to spot on it, it still felt too dirty.
Like she’d been bleeding.
And then his entire head went completely blank, every thought turning a stark white.
His once weak and exhausted arms were suddenly filled with renewed strength, moving against his will before he even realized it. Black lifted Rienne up into his arms, pushing aside her nightgown.
There was blood spotting on her bare white skin, but he couldn’t find any wounds.
Rienne murmured, her lips barely moving as her eyes struggled to open.
Moving on instinct, Black cupped Rienne’s face in his hand, forcing her to look into his eyes.
[Black] “Princess? Are you awake? Can you tell me where you’re hurt?”
[Black] “I can’t find any wounds. Are you in any pain?”
[Rienne] “. . .”
In that brief moment, when their eyes met, Rienne’s expression turned strange. Rather than being happy to see him, there was an odd mixture of worry, hesitation, and fear in her eyes.
[Black] “Tell me where you got hurt.”
[Rienne] “I’m…..not….hurt……But, I want…to tell you…something…”
Her voice was so quiet, it was like a wisp of air, burning his heart as he heard it.
[Black] “Whatever it is, you can tell me later. If you’re not in any pain, we need to get going.”
Black hooked his arm beneath Rienne’s legs, picking her up as he lifted her from the ground. He was worried her back might’ve been hurt like what happened before, but they couldn’t afford to stay here until Rienne came back to her senses.
Step, step, step!
Even the sound of his rapid footsteps sounding out against the stone ground didn’t seem real.
But the most unreal thing of all was Rienne, who looked so weak right now, her face bloodless and pale. It unsettled and distressed him, and those feelings only served to further agitate him.
He couldn’t stand that feeling of discomfort boiling inside of him.
Why did this have to happen to the Princess…..
I didn’t come back to see this. This isn’t what I said I would get back!
[Rienne] “I…have to tell… you……”
Rienne reached out and grabbed Black’s collar, her hands deathly cold and her voice tired—laced with exhaustion.
[Rienne] “I wanted… to say it, but I…..kept avoiding…it…..”
At the sound of her breathless voice, Black stopped in his tracks. Moving hesitantly, he put his ear close to Rienne’s lips.
And then, in a soft and timid voice, she said—
[Rienne] “I wanted… to tell you……there is….no child…….”
Leaving Black to be confused, Rienne’s hand lifelessly fell as she closed her eyes, slipping back into unconsciousness as if she’d done the one thing she wanted to do.
* * *
Rienne wasn’t hurt.
She was just tired after walking around for so long on such an empty stomach. And as a reward for her exhaustion, Rienne slept for a very long time. As still and as quiet as the dead.
And funnily enough, it was dawn again by the time Rienne woke up. It was still a little early though, so most people were probably still asleep.
Like Mrs. Flambard.
The only difference was that Mrs. Flambard wasn’t sleeping in her own room, but had fallen asleep leaning against the corner of Rienne’s bed, watching over her from the side.
[Mrs. Flambard] “…….Ah, Princess! Are you awake?”
Hearing Rienne stir awake, Mrs. Flambard rushed to her side, her eyes widened.
Rienne fought back the trembling of her eyelids, forcing her eyes open with great difficulty.
[Mrs. Flambard] “How are you? Are you feeling alright?”
[Rienne] “Ah…Yes, I think so.”
[Mrs. Flambard] “Hah, I’m so glad. I’m so, so glad.”
The woman clasped her hands together, opening and closing them as she let out a deep sigh.
[Mrs. Flambard] “When I was told what was going on, I thought something awful had happened to you, Princess. I was so shocked I nearly forgot to call a doctor.”
Before she lost consciousness, Rienne struggled to remember what happened, sorting through her messy memories.
[Rienne] “How did I get back here? I think I got lost but…..I don’t remember what happened after that.”
[Mrs. Flambard] “Ah, you don’t remember? Someone carried you back in, Princess.”
[Rienne] “Lord Tiwakan…..? ……Ah.”
A vague and hazy memory came back to her.
Lost and confused, exhausted and drained, Rienne was found by Black.
She thought she was only dreaming when she saw him, so she found herself talking about all the things she couldn’t find the courage to say in real life.
And that’s when she told him there was no child.