It was around the time Belinda’s eyes were being painted. There was a change in the eyes of two of the dogs tied to Belinda’s sled.
Blinking with bloodshot eyes, they scratched the snow with their front feet.
They were well-trained dogs, but even though they had faithfully stood still while they got painted, they now began to show signs of nerves.
No one noticed anything at first until the first dog in the left row suddenly opened its eyes.
When it bit the dog standing to the right on its neck, everyone backed off in surprise. A few screams burst out.
“What’s going on?”
Before the dog on the right could grasp the situation, it also started running wild in a feverish state, its bloody eyes meeting another dog’s and body trembling.
Chaos swallowed up the field. Saliva dripped off the dogs’ exposed teeth.
“Stop right there!”
“Get the princess!”
There was a commotion.
Prince Lart and Princess Adelai quickly fled from the ferocious, growling dogs, and Belinda tightly gripped the sled, struggling not to fall off as it swayed.
The dogs trampled away in the snow as if they had been enchanted.
“Attack the dogs!”
The knights pulled out their swords and arrows, but the dogs were flailing so violently that the situation was uncontrollable. It would have been a problem if an arrow went the wrong way and hit Belinda. Everyone hesitated, unable to bring themselves to shoot at a member of the royal family.
However, after a few attempts, they managed to overpower the two dogs in the front that were running wildly. They tore the dogs off and cut the line connecting them to the rest.
This time, it was the rest of the dogs that ran off. They dashed across the snow, their eyes red with excitement.
Lucy ran after them with a look of astonishment. By the time the knights rushed in, Belinda’s sled was already surprisingly far away.
Ice splashed around the sled as it ran down the river. Belinda gripped the reins, crying out in horror.
“Guys! Stop! Please! I beg you!”
She was far from stopping the dogs from pulling the wobbly sled as it was hard to even control herself. Although she could hear people chasing her from behind, she didn’t dare turn around to check.
The cold wind swept into her face, making her feel as if her skin were tearing off, and her hands, gripping the reins fearfully, trembled.
It was clear that if she fell off, she’d break a bone. She held on even tighter.
Mazetto flew in and began to peck the bridges of the dogs’ noses with his beak.
“Stop, you stupid dogs! Belinda will get hurt!”
However, he was hit by a dog and fell into the snow before he could fly away from it.
The sled went on towards the icy sea that the river ended in – not leaving a moment for Belinda to reach out after him.
Meanwhile, the knights began to prepare their own sleds. They had to go after Belinda quickly, which some of them had already done on foot. However, a human couldn’t possibly catch up with a dog, and they quickly lost their trail.
“Go along the sled’s marks!”
The sled started off at the cry of the driver. Lucy bawled as it disappeared into the distance.
Her sobbing voice faltered.
“Calm down, Lucy.”
Lart stroked her back comfortingly, with a pale face. He bit his lips nervously. Although he was the one telling her to calm down, he was also worried.
Even if Belinda didn’t fall off the sled, if it kept going, it would reach the sea.
The boundary between the river and the sea had very thin ice, which could easily collapse under the weight of the sled.
Beyond the boundary, a sea full of floating ice unfolded. The vast, cold sea.
If Belinda ended up falling in it, she would be a lost cause – her body couldn’t be found.
“I’m leaving too. Get a sled ready!”
Lart turned around and shouted an order, assuming the worst.
Meanwhile, Adelai covered her face with a gloved hand as she watched the situation. She was trying to hide her expression.
The embarrassment that she first felt had gradually developed.
I didn’t think something like this would happen…
At best, she had imagined the dogs running around and throwing Belinda into the snow or maybe biting her.
This is a slightly bigger problem than I was expecting.
She glanced around. The perpetrator of the incident, Duke Ruberos DeHill pursed his lips impatiently, fiddling with his cufflinks.
The bag that Adelai had handed him yesterday contained a stimulant that excited dogs. It flowed into their bloodstream after a set time and made them go berserk.
It was his job to feed it to the dogs and create a funny situation. He’d done his part well – he hid the drugs in some treats and fed them to the dogs. The plan had definitely gone as intended, though the dogs running off to a dangerous place with Belinda on board didn’t form part of it.
Duke Ruberos gave Adelai a sideways look.
“You must be worried about Princess Belinda.”
Adelai whispered reassuringly.
He replied with a gulp.
He looked around, fearing that someone would hear them, but everyone was too swept up by the urgent situation to pay attention.
Duke Ruberos was miserable.
What he had done was a murder attempt on a member of the royal family. It wasn’t just a light joke on Belinda that Adelai had pushed on him anymore.
It was serious. As he stood in the cold field, anxiety soared up to his throat hotly.
Adelai patted him on the shoulder as if trying to reassure him.
“Nothing’s going to happen. Even if something goes wrong, you’re not in any danger.”
Duke Ruberos pretended to be calm, but his smile was frozen.
Claire reeled back, on the verge of collapse, and grabbed onto her brother. Adelai was the only person who was relaxed.
Three sleds, including Lart’s, had set off following Belinda’s trails.
As the wind grew stronger, the snow concealed the sled’s marks. The forks of the river stretched ahead of them like a maze.
Lart shouted urgently and drove off towards the middle of the river, his heart pounding.
Although his relationship with Belinda may have started with him laughing at her for being vulgar, she was his sister. She was the precious princess with whom he’d built a strong relationship.
However, to his disappointment, the fork he had picked wasn’t the correct one.
After a long while running with no result, he turned the sled around. He had to try again and take a different route.
The knights, who had gone in different directions, stopped their sleds.
The ice below them was starting to crack. At this rate, they would die before they could save the princess.
They took a glance at each other and turned their sleds to dry land. They’d have better luck following the river from its banks.
Meanwhile, Belinda’s reckless sled rattled more and more. Mazetto, who had been flattened into the snow, flew back, clinging to her hair.
“Belinda! Don’t fall! Hold on tight, yeah?”
He held onto Belinda with his tiny feet. It was the only thing the little bird could do.
She couldn’t even reply, struggling to keep her balance.
The boundary between the river and the sea was approaching rapidly.
The sled rattled with a squeaky noise whenever it scratched against a bump in the ice.
The ice began to crack.
Belinda’s face was pale. Cold blood trickled off her lips, perhaps from biting them.
What should I do?
First, she shook her shoulders, trying to get Mazetto to fly away. She’d be in trouble if she fell into the water, but shouldn’t Mazetto at least survive? If he got caught, they’d be stuck in the icy water together.
The sea inched closer, so vast that there was no end to be seen. The dogs, unafraid of the water, ran on in extreme excitement.
Belinda squeezed the reins, examining the situation.
She looked at the condition of the ground and the speed of the sled.
Then, the moment the rattling slightly stopped, she threw herself off. It would be better to survive with broken bones than get stuck in the sea.
The landing wasn’t as smooth as expected. Belinda tripped on the edge of the sled and fell onto her shoulder. There was a sharp pain in her head.
She stared ahead in vain. The dogs were still running towards the sea, dragging the empty sled.
Her arm trembled on the ice. Coldness rose up from the tips of her toes, and pain flowed through her body, along with anxiety and embarrassment.
Belinda reeled back, overwhelmed with fear. She somehow managed to stand up and stood still for a little while.
There was a crack under her feet.
She threw off her cumbersome cape and limped towards dry land. She didn’t want to die a dog’s death, struggling in a cold, icy river.
The ankle that had caught on the sled earlier was throbbing, but she continued on, ignoring it.
Mazetto flew around her, crying at her.
“Come on, Belinda, come on! Hurry up and run!”
Belinda kept at his tail, but just before she reached the snow-covered ground, she heard a snap.
She fell into a crack in the ice, leaving her no time to be surprised. There was a pile of snow covering it, making it invisible.
Her feet gave out. She reached for something, but only a sharp piece of ice slipped out of her hand.
A coldness that seemed to freeze every one of her cells covered her body. Even her scream froze. She felt swallowed up by the chills filling her throat.
The terrible fear and cold ate away at her as she shuddered and struggled to climb out.
Her face hit a sharp bit of ice while she continued to slip, flounder and struggle.
Her vision blurred. The cold made it hard to move, and she couldn’t feel anything.
“Belinda, get up, get out! Belinda, you’ll…”
Tears dripping from his black eyes, Mazetto tugged Belinda’s hair with his beak. He struggled to pull the single strand that had frozen to his small body.
“Come on! Quickly! Belinda, you’ll die if you don’t…!”
He pecked her cheeks and grabbed her collar, but her body was drained. Even the sparrow’s wings had hardened with the cold. His feathers lost power with the snow weighing them down.
Mazetto circled around her, not leaving her side, and eventually clung to her as he poked her ears.
“Wake up. Wake up…!”
Mazetto’s voice was faint.
She stopped breathing.
No, she just felt like she stopped breathing. As the extreme situation took over her, all her senses seemed to be paralyzed.
Was this how she would die?
The sound of the running water and cracking ice faded away. Her sight wavered.
Her arms, barely clinging onto the ice, slipped away.
She felt like she’d heard Aymon’s voice.
The sound of her precious leopard’s unsteady voice would probably be the last thing she heard.
At that moment, she missed him so much. She missed Aymon so much.