Should I just run away?

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My whole body was on edge, but I could only force myself to forget such a thought.
I was worried I would actually run away without even realizing it.
Unfortunately, I was in a moving carriage and wearing a tight dress.
Even if I ran away, I would’ve been caught.
Where was he?

“These are looser than I expected.”

My wrists had been bound together by ugly, iron shackles.
Of course, I knew such treatment was unavoidable here.
To them, I was no different from a terrible monster.

“My goodness, to take a witch as a bride.
The duke must be out of his mind.”

“Who agreed to this? Why should we be at peace with the witches?”

“They are beasts! Savages!”

I sighed.
Yes, I’m a witch.

Let’s start from the beginning.
Today was my wedding, but no one would congratulate me.
My opponent, or husband I suppose, was Duke Havel, nephew to the human emperor.
Among the humans, he was known as the Black Reaper.
He and I were the main characters of this wedding.

“Oh dear, His Lordship is so unlucky.
What should we do?”

“His Majesty is too cruel.
He can’t do this to our lord!”

“How is this any different from offering our lord as a sacrifice to the witch?”

…This wasn’t a fairy tale.
The vassals lamented their lord’s fate, and the young children wept.
To them, I was going to eat their duke.
Do I look like I want to be married? At this point, I’m getting pretty upset.
I didn’t threaten the duke and beg him to marry me.
On the contrary, I’m also a victim.
It was all because of that letter, which brought me here in the first place.

[I, Julius VII, the Emperor of the Edelin Empire, hereby declare our 400-year war against the witches has come to an end.
The witches must abide by this announcement.]

It demanded us to surrender.
Words were nothing more than suggestions, and this was but an act of intimidation.
If we refused, they would continue to torment us.
Yes, let’s just end the war and form an alliance.
This was coming from someone who started the war.

It was ridiculous.
This land originally belonged to the witches; it used to be full of mana, but not anymore.
It was all because of the humans who drove us out and continued to grow in population.
The witches fought back, but it wasn’t enough against the tens of thousands of humans.
Eventually, many of us were hunted down and killed.
The few remaining witches had no choice but to give up our land and live behind a barrier.
Our new home was called Kartelle.

400 years later, the humans agreed to sign a peace treaty, so the witches should surrender and leave the safety of Kartelle.

[As a gesture of peace, I shall welcome a Witch Princess as a bride to the Edelin Empire.]

This was the source of my current predicament.
Instead of promising everlasting peace, the human emperor demanded a Witch Princess.
I didn’t think that was fair.
The Witch Queen shared the same sentiment.
Since she had to respond within a day after receiving the letter, I was chosen over my three sisters.

“It can’t be helped.
Only Eleanor can go,” she stated.

“I can’t believe this,” I had said.

“Your oldest sister is the strongest, the second-oldest is the smartest, and the third-oldest is the most beautiful.
That leaves only you.”

Kartelle was a world where the powerful ruled.
I was abandoned because I was weak, not very intelligent, and not dazzlingly beautiful.

However, I wasn’t that ugly.
With a frown, I looked at my reflection in the window.
A woman with beautiful, platinum blonde hair and big red eyes stared back.
I liked my fair skin and sharp nose, but small eyes and a cute nose were the standards of beauty in the world of witches.
From their perspective, I was an outsider.
I’m already considered an outcast in my homeland, but will it be any different in the land of humans? I didn’t expect much.
When humans see a witch, they’re eager to kill her.
How many days can I endure such treatment?

“I think I’m going to die soon.
Maybe a week or so…”

I started to calculate the amount of time I had left to live.
Then, the rattling carriage began to slow to a stop.
Just as I thought.

“I’m here.” I quickly looked out the window and heard voices from outside.
There was a large gate decorated with a particular emblem.
It was the crest of Duke Havel.

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“I heard you’re the most powerful duke in the empire… It’s huge.”

I got out of the carriage, my mouth agape as I gazed at a castle that was larger than I expected.
I thought it would be similar to a castle in Kartelle.

“Oh? What are those things on the walls for?”

“Huh? Ah, the cannons.
They’re weapons to be used against our enemies,” said the soldier who was sent out to escort me.
He was very reluctant to answer my question.

I frowned.
I knew what a cannon was.
“Why are there so many?”

“For the day someone wants to siege the Duchy of Havel.
Take a good look at the wall.
From here to there does it protect the land.”

This whole thing was a wall? Surprised, I looked back hastily.
As the soldier said, the wall surrounded the castle, the village, and even further beyond.
I was in a prison for witches.
I don’t know if I can escape.
While I was still struggling in a swamp of confusion, a soldier walked up to me and clicked his tongue.

“You better live like a rat while you’re here.
Don’t even dream about running away.”

“…”

“My lord is a knight who has lived on the battlefield since he was a wee boy.
If you want to have a long life, I suggest you behave.”

“…”

I think he gave me advice, but it just went in one ear and out the other.

“Haha… I’ll give it a week at most.
What do you think?”

I was so exhausted that all I could do was smile.
A week? What do you mean a week?

“I’ll die tonight.”

I was in the depths of despair as I stared at the gate.
I couldn’t imagine myself leaving this place.

***

“It’s driving me crazy,” I murmured as I wandered around the spacious room.

I was guided here by a frightened maid once my shackles were removed.
I thought he’d put me in a stable or lock me up in a dungeon, so I was surprised he was kind.
No, this place was so good that I felt it wasn’t normal.
The room itself was large, the interior decorations were elaborate, and even the arrangement of everything was flawless.
Where was he? It was no exaggeration to say that this room was prepared by him.
That was the problem.

“Why did you give me such a room?” I was sitting on the bed.
“And why hasn’t he even revealed himself?”

As soon as I entered the castle, I expected my husband to rush in and stab me with a dagger; however, it appeared he wasn’t going to show up until later.

“Did you find this arranged marriage so disgusting that you plan to ignore me? If so, I hope it stays like this forever.” After talking to myself for a long time, I lay down on the bed.
“He’s not going to be here, is he?”

I was mentally exhausted from preparing myself for our confrontation, but I didn’t even see his shadow.
I felt like a fool.
Who knows what’s going on?

When I closed my eyes, my fatigue returned.
My consciousness gradually faded; it was great I could relax even if I was in the enemy’s territory.
Since I had to travel a long distance while in a carriage for the past fifteen days, I had no choice but to accept the situation.
Soon enough, I fell asleep.

How much time had passed? I frowned, hearing a rustling sound that interrupted my slumber.
I tossed and turned.
This time I heard a soft chuckle next to me.
Was that a bug?

Actually, there was no way an insect could have such a pretty laugh.

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“To think you can sleep without knowing who’s next to you.”

After the deep voice spoke, something gently touched my cheek.
I quickly opened my eyes and saw someone standing in the shadows.

“Ah, you’re awake.” The unidentified intruder softly laughed and said, “I am delighted to make your acquaintance.”

He even introduced himself politely.
“W-Who are you?” I instantly sat up and looked at him.
But it wasn’t long before I realized that was a stupid question.
I knew his identity from a single glance.
His hair was of the blackest night, and his eyes were like the dark blue sea.

“Staring so intensely at my face like that, perhaps you figured out who I am?” he asked as if he was having fun.

I nodded.
Everything about him gave off the impression of someone who was ever so slightly amused.
Unbefitting of his handsome face, he was called the “Black Reaper” and beloved by his people and the emperor.

“You’re Lukas Havel, aren’t you?”

My husband was a human.
His mouth became a thin line.
“That’s correct.
I also know who you are.”

“…”

“Mm-hmm, I recognized you instantly,” he said proudly.

I wondered if I should praise him, but unfortunately, I wasn’t in the mood to mess around.
“…Are you here to kill me?”

He took a moment to respond.
Then, smiling, he said, “Oh my, what shall we do in that case?”

Lukas began to approach me.
I wanted to run away, but that was practically impossible.
I could only stay where I was.
Meanwhile, his outstretched hand brushed against my cheek.
His long fingers touched my lips, my chin, traced my neck… Wait, my neck?

Suddenly, the bed shifted, and I was pinned down.
I was frightened; he had climbed on top of me and looked down with a piercing gaze.

“What… are you doing?” I was barely able to calm my beating heart.

“Hmm? I heard a married couple’s first night starts out like this.” Lukas smirked and continued to utter complete nonsense, “Have I lived up to my dear wife’s expectations?”

I would love to wipe that smile off his face.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t even if I tried; his hands were wrapped around my neck, and I had only grabbed his wrist.

Finally.
I smiled as he tightened his grip.
Will I die a miserable death after all?

It was pointless to figure out how I could survive this ordeal.
So, this was the end.

I briefly recalled what the Witch Queen told me before I left Kartelle.

“Go forth, and do nothing.”

“…”

“Remember that if you act rashly, everyone will suffer the consequences.”

Then my sisters chimed in.

“You must persevere, Ella.”

“Our future depends on you.”

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“We won’t forget your sacrifice.”

Sacrifice? At that moment, I saw they were saddened by our farewell yet also relieved.
It felt like I sacrificed myself for my people, but I never had a choice.
And now, I’m going to die because of this man.
I suppose I lived a very simple life.

“If you’re going to kill me, do it quickly.
Don’t hesitate now.”

I closed my eyes.
I couldn’t help but be afraid of death, but looking at it now, it wasn’t so bad.
My death will prove that witches and humans can never coexist; I prevented more of my people from being killed.
I waited for the pain to envelop my senses.

“…Why are your eyes closed?”

What? I was caught off guard.
When I quickly opened my eyes, I was met with a gaze of dark blue.

Lukas looked displeased.
“Why are you not resisting? At this rate, I might actually kill you.
Do you not value your own life?”

I couldn’t answer him right away.
This wasn’t a marriage I wanted in the first place.
It was unfair I would die at my husband’s hands, at the hands of a human.
But even if I cried and made a fuss, nothing would change.
I’m sure he’s aware of it too.

“You’re going to kill me anyway, right?”

“…”

I thought the expression on his face faltered; the grip around my neck loosened.

“Do you wish to die by my hands?”

“Yes.”

He nodded.
“It’s obvious you won’t be treated well if you live here.”

Death was an escape.
Of course, it would be painful, but I would be treated like a monster if I were kept alive.
This room, which I thought looked good at first, began to feel more like a fancy prison cell.
I would rather be a noble sacrifice than live like an animal trapped in a cage.

“Hurry up and kill me already.”

“Shouldn’t the correct course of action be to resist?”

He asked once more why I didn’t fight back.
If you’re going to kill me, just do it.
How did you imagine the situation in your head? I glanced at him.
“What the hell were you expecting?”

Time passed.
How long did his blue eyes stare at me?

“What would you do if a snake appears and starts to choke you?”

“I don’t like reptiles,” I replied.

“What if you were poisoned?”

“That’s a fun situation, don’t you think?”

“Your heart would stop beating, and you’d die without feeling anything.”

“Ah, you aren’t wrong.”

He tightened his grip around my neck again.
“Shall we return to the question at hand? Why don’t you resist?”

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“I can’t use magic here.”

It was such a pity.
The emperor added another condition when the Witch Queen agreed to send a Witch Princess.
Since humans were afraid of witches, the Witch Princess wasn’t allowed to use her magic.
As a result, my magic was sealed away.
It was like I went to war without a weapon.

“Prove it.”

I started to think; however, there wasn’t a good way to do that.
Proving that I could use magic in the first place was different from proving that I couldn’t.
He must be doing this just to tease me.

I was irritated, and then I remembered something.
“All right, fine.
Let go of my neck first.”

He hesitated.
“Won’t you use magic on me as soon as I do that?”

“I can’t.
If I could, I wouldn’t even be in this situation.”

Lukas appeared troubled for a moment, but soon enough, he nodded and pulled back his hands.
I began to loosen the ribbon that held the front part of my dress.

“What are you doing?” He frowned.

“Hold on, I’ll show you.” I wasn’t supposed to do something like this recklessly.

This time Lukas was taken aback.
He was probably thinking about whether or not to stop me, but I unbuttoned my dress regardless.
My corset was exposed to him.

“How much more are you going to take off?”

“I’m done.”

Sorry, it won’t be any more than this.
I showed him my right shoulder.
“See the mark on my shoulder? It looks like a round dot.”

“Yes, I see it.” He nodded slowly.

“It temporarily seals the power of a witch.
Only the Witch Queen can do this.”

It was the seal Her Majesty placed on me before I came here.
I had to live like a human.
Thanks to that, the magic in my body was less than ten percent of the amount during my time in Kartelle.
I can’t even do the most basic of spells, huh?

I let out a sigh.
Meanwhile, Lukas stared at my shoulder as if noticing something strange.
Gently, he touched the seal.

“Hmm.” He saw something and frowned.

For a moment, my heart sank.
“What’s wrong?”

“You have red marks on your neck.”

Oh.
I initially thought my throat was sore.
“It’s all because of someone here.” He threatened my life.
Now he’s pretending to be worried?

“You tried to kill me, did you not?”

“When did I do that?” Huh, what was he talking about?

“I won’t kill you,” he said.

I blinked.
Was I hearing things?

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