“If we need to persuade others, I will take care of it.”

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“Don’t even bother.”

This seal was cast by the Witch Queen.
Even my oldest sister, the strongest witch after the Witch Queen, couldn’t remove it.

Lukas sighed and shook his head.
He leaned in close.
“I beg of you, resist.
Please.”

“…”

“Do not just close your eyes like before.”

I would’ve said I didn’t close my eyes this time, but I swallowed my words instead.
“How did you know where to go?”

“Miss Betty told me you were in danger.”

Betty! I remembered her face as we left for House 3.
I had to show her I was fine; however, when I tried to stand, my husband pressed down on my shoulder.
When I tried again, he forced me to lay down on the bed by being on top of me.

“I’m worried,” he said.

“Why? You won’t get what you want if I die?” Was he afraid of losing whatever was so important to him?

“It has nothing to do with that.”

They weren’t related to each other? Then why did he care? Why was he angry? I was confused by the unexpected answer.

My husband wrapped his trembling arms around my waist.
“I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“…”

“Please, don’t get hurt.”

My heart wavered because of the desperation in his voice.
I was unsure of what to do.
Looking into his blue eyes, I grasped his shirt.
I needed to know.
“Why?”

“Ow!”

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My husband had flicked my forehead.
He also appeared to be slightly furious.
“I leave you alone for a few hours, yet you wind up in the infirmary.
Is this a skill of yours?”

“Do I look like I wanted to be strangled?”

Excuse you, I’m just as upset! My neck hurt, and I wasn’t feeling well for a number of reasons.
My husband’s nagging only made me sadder.
Looking at him, I couldn’t find the will to say what I felt.

I was startled when he suddenly buried his face into the crook of my neck.
“What are you doing?”

Blood was smeared on his mouth.
Oddly enough, he licked his lips.
“Your wound has to be cleaned.
Stay still.”

I wasn’t concerned about that.
“Darling.”

“It’s nice to see you acknowledge me as your husband.
My heart skipped a beat.”

I rolled my eyes at his sweet-sounding words.
“You shouldn’t carelessly consume a witch’s blood.”

“Is it poisonous?” His lips were pressed against my neck again.

I punched his shoulder.
Thankfully, he frowned and pulled away.

“It’s dirty!”

“I’m healthy, so it won’t be a problem,” he replied.

“Is this the time to brag about that?”

Seeing me make a fuss, my husband said that he’ll find out and turned his attention away from my neck.
His face was now very close to mine.
It was strange having to look up at him as I lay on the bed.
I avoided meeting his warm gaze.
Well, until he gently grabbed my chin to make me stare at him.

“Do you not wish to look me in the eye? Are you finally reflecting on your past behavior?”

“My past behavior? Technically, you shouldn’t be doing this to a patient!” I struggled a bit and grabbed his arm.
My first day in Havel came to mind.
Of course, he wasn’t strangling me now.

As I was lost in thought, my husband smiled.
“I’m reminded of that night.”

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I guess he was thinking the same thing.

“I thought I was going to die at the time.”

“Um… In case you forgot, I was the one who almost died.” And he was the one who almost, you know, killed me.

He was displeased at my words before lowering his head and clicking his tongue.
“Ah, yes.
Shall we do what we couldn’t do then?”

I gave him a perplexed look.
What we couldn’t do then? As he moved closer, I almost could feel his breath against my skin.

“I hate to interrupt a moment between my lord and my lady, but you should get another room if you’re going to do that.”

My husband got off the bed as the old man pulled up a chair and sat down in it.
He handed me a cup of tea.

“I’m not sure if it will work on a witch… The tea will help you calm down.
I suggest you sleep early as well.”

The gentle, floral fragrance seemed to put me at ease for some reason.
The tea tasted good.
I smiled, and the old man started to treat my injuries in earnest.

After cleaning the wound and wrapping a bandage around my neck, he said, “It may not look the best… Try not to get injured again.”

I nodded.
An extravagant dress and bandages didn’t go well together.
I thought I should change into a dress that covered my neck for later.
I made a list of possible outfits in my head.

“I must take my leave and head into town.
My lord…”

“I’ll be here.” He sighed.
“Even if my wife goes out, the guests are bound to be noisy.” Standing by a bookcase, he pulled out a book and sat down on the floor.

Laying on the bed, I was startled.
“Aren’t you busy?” My husband had been stuck in his office for the past few days.

He furrowed his brow.
“I am merely pretending to be busy.”

“Why?”

It was a while before he answered.
“I hope this isn’t inappropriate of me to say.”

“…”

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“You sound like a little duckling.
It’s cute.”

I wanted to scream and curse at my husband’s “compliment”.
A duckling.
Not even a duck, but a duckling.

I sat up.
“…I can’t help it.” Damn it.
My voice was low.
There was no way to clear my throat so that I sounded fine.

My husband only said what he saw.
He was honest, and other times he was a tactless human.
I closed my mouth as I glanced at him.
Only then did he smile, walk to the bed, and make me lay down again.

“Rest.”

“…”

“Are you nervous because you aren’t in your room? Do you believe someone else will pay you a visit?”

Staring at the ceiling, I was deep in thought.
Was I not reassured? No, the herbal tea I was given put me at ease.

“Worry not, I will be here until you fall asleep.”

Surprisingly, his words caused the anxiety in my heart to vanish.
I felt tired.
My eyelids began to droop.

***

“Damn it all!”

Things were strewn about on the floor.
Count Dorison, with a bandage wrapped around his shoulder, kicked the chair and table.

“You’re but an ugly witch… How dare a savage…” He recalled the sword that pierced his shoulder and the blood which flowed out.
“I’ll make sure your eyes are food for the crows.
The dogs will gnaw on your bones!”

Count Dorison tore apart a pillow, its white feathers falling to the floor.
He trampled on them.

“The duke…” He remembered Lukas’s face, the gaze that looked down on him.
It was a gaze that didn’t ignore him but also didn’t treat him seriously.
As if it wasn’t worth the effort.
“There’s a limit to who you can just disregard…”

The count rummaged through his belongings.
“Here it is.” He grinned at the black vial in his hand.

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He left his room and headed to a warehouse outside the castle.
The soldiers guarding the entrance bowed.

“What brings you here, my lord?”

“I wish to check on the gifts before the ball.”

“Oh, Marquis Phineas already looked at them.”

“How meticulous can an old man be? I need to see it with my own eyes, so get out of my way!”

“Yes, yes of course…” The soldiers opened the door.

The count was one of the representatives of the procession; there wasn’t a reason for the soldiers to argue with him.

He gazed at the piles of presents.
“It seems everyone wanted to look good in front of the duke.
To offer such things to a witch no less…”

The count stopped in front of a golden chalice, studded with red and blue jewels and encased in a glass box.
“This must be Carcalos.”

It was one of the Edelin Empire’s national treasures, locked away in the warehouses belonging to the royal family until it was needed.
There was only enough alcohol for one sip, and the chalice itself was sealed with wax.
After glancing at the closed door, the count took out a dagger.
He opened the glass case and peeled off the wax seal.
Count Dorison stared at the dark red liquid.

“You’re the only one who I can trust with this kind of task… You will do this for me, right?”

Count Dorison nodded in response to the voice in his head.
“Yes, Your Highness.”

He took out the small vial with dark red liquid and removed the cork.
His Highness said it was a strong poison, but the sweet scent was almost suffocating.
He poured the dark red liquid into the golden chalice.
Once he confirmed the poison was completely mixed with the wine, he took out the wax he prepared earlier to reseal the chalice with Carcalos.

“Tonight… Hahaha…” He gripped the glass case.
“Tonight, the witch and the duke… One of them will surely die.”

It didn’t matter who drank the wine.
Count Dorison couldn’t hide the smile on his face.

“Everything will be as His Highness wishes.”

Inside the dark warehouse, his purple eyes shined eerily under the candlelight.

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