“I can provide Aleph with a strong foundation and posterity of the nobles, and you can place the Akarna’s blessing in his place.”
“I like you.
I think we can do well together.
What if I give up my position just a little bit?”
It must have been said as a compliment.
Her laughter was closer to pure favor towards her than a passive-aggressive check against her enemy.
But Jiwoo’s heart grew cold in an instant.
That summer day, he kissed her to the point where it felt like the heat that had reached its climax and had not cooled down for a moment, and yet, it was soon extinguished.
This person called him Aleph.
Jiwoo still called him Your Highness.
“You seem to be calling His Highness by name.”
We’re getting married.”
“And no matter how you are the Akarna, your position is still that of a commoner.”
It was like that, on the Empire’s sacred ground.
While diligently performing her duties as the Akarna, she was not once paid and considered a servant of the Empire and not of God.
It was because of the crown prince that she thought it was a good thing even if she was forced to endure it.
It was because of her lover.
But maybe she was alone on that idea.
No matter what Jiwoo was thinking, the woman continued to chat about her own experiences.
“You don’t know how much I sacrificed for him.
This includes acknowledging your existence.”
The talk of the noisy social circles continued, and with Jiwoo keeping her mouth shut, she was not even curious about it.
The topic about the three has been subject to considerable scrutiny.
The passionate crown prince, who would not give up his love, even though the infertile Akarna was likely to lower his status.
His benevolent fiancée, who did not doubt him.
And Jiwoo, who became an obstacle in the crown prince’s shining life.
That’s it? Was it like that? Really?
Was she the only fool who cared about such things?
She was able to let go of the past because of love, only live in the present, and she could endure everything while drawing the future with one person.
The crown prince, Aleph, was not like that.
His love was calculated from the start.
For even a single moment, love could not have surpassed his purpose and made love his priority.
Was the crown prince trying to maintain this relationship until he narrowed her grounds?
What did he give up?
He didn’t give up on anything.
Rather, he used this matter to solidify his good image.
It felt like her love had fallen to the ground and got trampled on.
She was an idiot who threw everything away and put Aleph and love first.
She thought that it would be okay to settle here without returning to her reality as long as she had Aleph.
It would be better to throw away everything that made her in the past and start here.
‘I love you.’
Aleph’s shy confession flashed through her mind.
He might have loved her.
It’s just that he wasn’t the kind of person who would give up something more valuable to him just because of love.
Jiwoo’s love was not grand enough to make him do something so great.
That was the right thing to do.
Thinking about it rationally, that’s all right.
He was a member of the imperial family, and she was merely a shell of the Akarna that could be replaced at any time.
She did not know when she would die due to the Akarna’s frequent dispatch to the wastelands.
She could bear no successor.
The crown prince had done nothing wrong.
Besides, he was not going to throw her away, he was just going to give her a realistic place.
Wasn’t this sensible enough?
But what about her? No one asked her opinion or even her feelings.
They said that it was an honor for her that they had decided on their own and she had to accept it.
She clenched her fists tightly.
She trembled all the way to her shoulders.
“That wasn’t the only way.”
“Hmm? Another way? Oh, hahaha.
The fan that was making the wind softly blew past.
What she saw behind that was a pitiful look.
The woman seemed to laugh at her for wanting too much from her position.
“You didn’t expect Aleph to abandon my terms and choose only you, right?”
Thousands of words went round and round in her head, but only one word came out of her mouth.
She clearly remembered what she was thinking that day.
She was, after all, just a stranger here.
* * *
Drip, drip, drip.
The cold water dripping down on her forehead gently opened her eyes.
Suddenly, the light entered her senses and her vision got blurry.
A long time later, when the first sight was seen, all she could see was the roots of a tree dripping with water.
Was she still lying here? Jiwoo hurriedly got up.
Her head was spinning.
Her whole body was lethargic.
She felt off, as if she had slept from drinking some sleeping pills last night, then woke up.
However, for lying down for such a long time, her body was not cold.
A thick cloth was draped over her body.
There was a bonfire burning not far away.
‘I cut my arm with a knife…’
Jiwoo looked down at her arm, which was carefully wrapped in a white, clean cloth.
Only the wounded area was swollen, and the cloth was stained with blood.
Jiwoo carelessly touched that side.
The open wound hurt her.
Jiwoo gave up looking at her wound and looked around.
Of course she was alone.
There was no way the escort had come down here to rescue her.
The man of the other race that she had purified the miasma from… She didn’t save him for anything, so he probably had no intention of taking her to a nearby village.
Still, the fire seemed to have been left behind.
‘What a tough life.’
As Akarna, she realized something after doing relief work for a long time.
It’s either people died surprisingly easily, or they didn’t die surprisingly easily.
She must have been closer to the latter since she was Akarna.
She let out a sigh.
The damn body was cold and welcomed the warm fire.
As she warmed her hands to the fire, Jiwoo thought somberly.
‘When the rescue team arrives, I’ll just follow them.’
Impulsively trying to die yet failing only caused her fear of death to deepen.
She suffered deathly pain several times before she came back to life, and she didn’t want to go through it again.
Even if she ended up being treated like a stranger here, there was nothing she could do about it.
There’s no way back home.
Just because she didn’t want to accept this, or just because she recklessly parted with the crown prince, she didn’t have anywhere to go.
The temple wouldn’t allow her, and she didn’t think the crown prince would let her go.
It was when Jiwoo was thinking without any motivation.
A rustling sound was heard from the entrance.
Jiwoo raised her head.
And she found him.
The first thing that caught her eye was brightly colored hair.
Silver hair tinged with a light forget-me-not color.
In the sunlight, it looked much lighter than it did in the dark.
And the biggest feature, the ears, caught her eye.
She didn’t know because she only looked at him lying down, but one of his ears was cut half.
The asymmetry was more conspicuous because the opposite ear was long.
He was wary of Jiwoo, who was already awake.
After a moment’s hesitation, he came closer as if he had made up his mind.
They stared at each other for a moment.
There was no conversation.
The man unrolled a cloth in front of Jiwoo’s eyes.
She could see freshly picked berries, mushrooms, and herbs.
He then put the skinned chunks of meat over the bonfire.
Not long after, a fragrant smell spread from there.
The smell of ripe meat and the luscious apple-like fruit caught her eye, but she didn’t feel like eating any of it.
After a while, the other race said,
[You are a stranger.]
Due to the very closed nature of this race, she had only listened to it.
It was the first time Jiwoo met one in person.
The language he spoke was also strange.
It wasn’t the official language of the Empire she always heard.
She remembered the first time she fell into this strange world.
The first time she heard it was an unfamiliar language.
It was the same as being able to understand, but unable to speak.
After all, they were all just strangers to each other.
When Jiwoo smiled and nodded to the man, he seemed to think that the words worked, and he held out a berry.
It was a red fruit that she had been eyeing for a long time.
Aren’t you hungry?]
Jiwoo shook her head and refused to eat, but he ate one fruit first.
Even if Jiwoo didn’t respond, he didn’t give up and started talking again.
[Ah, should you drink first?]
She had shed a lot of blood, so the water bag he offered was really considerate.
The leather bag soaked in water was cool, and she was worried that it might smell bitter, but surprisingly, it had a refreshing mint scent.
[Show me your wound.]
After confirming that Jiwoo was drinking water, he pulled Jiwoo’s arm and removed the bandage.
A wound that was almost healing was now revealed.
It was the same arm that was hit by the dagger he swung, and where Jiwoo cut it herself.
But wasn’t he the one who attacked first?
Jiwoo pulled out her arm somewhat nervously.
He said hurriedly, having lost her hand.
[I apologize for attacking you.]
[Or, can’t you speak?]
Jiwoo, who did not want to deal with him until the end, eventually surrendered and raised her voice.
“I can only speak the Imperial language.”
After a while, he responded with the same words as Jiwoo.
He didn’t have the accent she usually heard, but it was definitely that language.
“…I don’t know if my words will sound right.
It’s my first time talking to a human.”
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