*˖:✧ ⑅•.༻♔༺.•⑅ ✧:˖*
Valhayle finally finished with Zelle’s face. He picked up a new piece of cloth and lightly wiped Zelle’s collarbone.
Zelle flinched from the contradiction of the cold oil and Valhayle’s warm hands.
Valhayle traced along the neckline and stopped. He slowly placed the cloth down and moved away.
Zelle carefully dipped her hands in the oil.
The blood on her hands was mostly the mercenaries’ but it could have been mixed with the blood from her wounds so it had to be cleaned with oil as well.
Valhayle watched her wash the blood away and broke the silence.
“…Why did you leave?”
Zelle halted. He lowered his voice even more and added.
“Why would you… Do such a reckless thing.”
They were simple questions but Zelle kept feeling out of breath by them.
Zelle couldn’t find the right words. When she faced Valhayle’s face all the excuses she had thought of became useless.
“I… Needed some time to think to myself. I never thought I would be involved in such danger. I said some illogical things yesterday so I thought you would lock me up….”
Her voice grew smaller.
“Since I know you wouldn’t believe me….”
Valhayle felt the surge of emotions rushing, hearing her reason.
The same emotions he felt ever since he realized the princess was gone and when he saw the man’s sword heading towards the princess’s fragile neck.
And at himself, whom the princess wanted to risk all that to avoid.
Valhayle clenched his fists.
‘If I am not your enemy.’
Would you not run away from me?
He thought with absolute sincerity.
‘Then I no longer want to be your enemy.’
So, he knelt on the spot.
Zelle’s eyes widened in confusion. If what she was seeing was right, Valhayle was kneeling in front of her.
“W-What are you doing?”
Valhayle spoke, still kneeling.
“I sincerely apologize for my previous discourteous behavior.”
Zelle thought he had gone mad for a second.
You were always a little discourteous…
Why… Why all of a sudden?
As if answering her doubts, Valhayle added.
“I kept thinking about the things you told me yesterday.”
“Y-You didn’t have to keep thinking about it…..”
“I finally understood why you couldn’t reveal the truth. Since there is no logical correlation between Your Highness and the messenger bird.”
Valhayle dropped his head. His voice was mixed with subtle agony.
“It is my fault for not being able to earn your trust. You couldn’t trust me enough to tell the truth and that resulted in today’s events.”
His low voice filled the room.
“Thus, what happened today is also my fault.”
Zelle parted her lips. She slowly started to understand what Valhayle was trying to say.
“So… You’re saying you believe what I told you yesterday?”
Valhayle answered simply.
Huh?? Zelle’s eyes widened.
‘Am I dreaming right now?’
I said that I’m a bird and he, Valhayle, believes that? Is this real?
Valhayle spoke with full respect.
“You knew the things I only told the messenger bird. That can’t be explained in any other way.”
Zelle backed away a little in disbelief of this man, kneeling in front of her, saying that he believes every word she said.
Zelle finally got herself to speak.
“Sir, are you not in your right mind from the shock or something…?”
“Not to the point my judgment is blurred.”
Zelle slowly asked him again.
“So, y-you believe that I was a bird?”
“I believe that you aren’t Granoir’s spy. I also believe that you truly wish for Roymonde’s victory. Since you have risked your life multiple times for this country.”
Valhayle fixed his gaze on Zelle.
“It all only makes sense considering you were in the bird’s body.”
He spoke genuinely.
“So, I believe what you have told me.”
Zelle was lost for words in the realization that she had earned Valhayle’s trust.
‘He trusts me.’
The suspicion that I betrayed this country is cleared too. I no longer have to be locked up!
‘…But wait. In that case……’
At the same time, Zelle grew uneasy.
Valhayle trusting her was actually more concerning.
“You can’t tell others that I was the bird.”
If other people knew of her contributions or believes she is something special, it would be a problem.
“Yes, it should stay a secret.”
The moment Zelle dropped her shoulders in relief, the tone in Valhayles’s voice changed.
He looked up at Zelle.
“I know about you now.”
Zelle looked at him, surprised by his sudden change in tone.
She saw something in his eyes. It was the same intense spark she saw that scared her as a bird.
Valhayle spoke in a low and passionate voice.
“Me trusting you means the whole of Roheneim trusts you.”
Chills ran down Zelle’s spine. Valhayle held up his sword with both hands and presented it to Zelle.
“Therefore, I offer you Roheneim’s trust today.”
Zelle looked at the sword presented to her. Her stomach felt sick.
‘Roymonde’s loyalty oath rite.’
What he was doing was definitely a loyal oath.
The rite is completed if the lord takes the sword and returns it back.
Zelle’s face went pale.
Even though this oath was being made without a witness, it was still an oath. Zelle refused the sword and backed away.
“…I only wished for the misunderstanding to be cleared. I don’t wish anything more than that.”
But Valhayle didn’t draw his sword.
It was the first time he presented his sword to someone else after he bowed to the king in his first knighthood investiture.
Valhayle wanted the princess to believe he wasn’t the enemy. This was the most he could do to prove that.
Valhayle couldn’t think of any other way than an oath. He held the sword highly and said.
“The sole fact of your survival gives hope to this country. I’m making this oath as one of the servants of Roymonde.”
Valhayle declared with burning passion in his eyes.
“From this day onward, I pledge my loyalty to Your Highness.”
Valhayle added sternly.
“And Rohneim will protect you at all cost.”
Bewilderment, shock, and undescribable fear-like awe rushed over her.
Her heart started racing as if she saw something very terrifying.
‘Should I accept this oath?’
I am on no one’s side and no one is on mine. In my world, ‘my side’ doesn’t exist.
Will the day come when Roymonde will truly protect her like when the golden flag embraced the bird?
‘I never received anything like it.’
Zelle hid her fears and looked at Valhayle’s face.
The daylight shone over his earnest face.
Seeing that face, her blood felt like boiling. Zelleine unconsciously extended her arms.
The oil dropped from Zelle’s hand. Each droplet added a fragrance in the room.
One of her fingers touched Valhayle’s sword. She felt the tremble in her hands and closed her eyes.
‘If I back away now, I will be the same Zelleine I always was.’
The 8th princess living in the shadows.
Zelleine before becoming a bird.
She thought of what Valhayle had said.
‘Roymonde needs a royal heir right now.’
The royal heir this country needs isn’t probably a royal heir like Zelle. They’d want a royal heir like the 1st and 2nd princess who has the power to recover the nation and reunite the nobles.
But if Linbessy or Demiera is alive like the intel Valhayle got, they had to be rescued.
And for that to happen,
‘We have to win this war.’
And the soldiers at this point needed a symbol of hope to win.
Someone that symbolized hope and who they pledge their loyalty to.
‘The sole fact of your survival gives hope to this country’
Zelle finally had to admit.
‘Roymonde as of now needs at least something like me.’
Zelle held Valhayle sword. It was difficult to carry with one hand because of the weight.
“Sir Lumares Valhayle.”
A strange voice came out of her mouth.
“May this sword only slay your enemies.”
Along with the words that complete the oath, Zelle returned the sword to Valhayle. Valhayle’s eyes were full of passion, receiving the sword back.
Valhayle and Zelle gazed into each other’s eyes.
*˖:✧ ⑅•.༻♔༺.•⑅ ✧:˖*
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