Elena stared at the doctor’s back before she turned to Carlisle.
“Are you not busy?”
“Not at all.”
However, a voice piped up from the door where the doctor had just left.
“Your Highness, it’s Zenard.”
Carlisle glared at Zenard standing by the entrance, but he replied.
“Hail to the Crown Prince and Crown Princess. Eternal glory to the Ruford Empire.”
Zenard greeted them formally as usual, then handed over a stack of documents to Carlisle.
“Your Highness, this needs your approval today, so please look over them.”
Elena had watched this scene play out several times before. Carlisle refused to be separated from the now-conscious Elena, and so his subordinates would often bring his work to him. Carlisle gave a furtive glance towards Elena, then accepted the papers and quickly flipped through them before handing them back to Zenard.
“Proceed as it is.”
“Understood, Your Highness.”
Elena lay in bed, staring at Carlisle’s figure.
“I’m much better now, so you can go out and do some work.”
Zenard’s expression noticeably lifted at her words, but Carlisle snapped back as if her suggestion wasn’t worth considering.
“I’ve been awake for days now, and the doctors say I’ll be fine.”
Carlisle’s blue eyes flashed fiercely.
“That’s because you don’t know the hell I experienced during those three days you were unconscious. I won’t go yet. Be patient and I’ll take care of you until you can fully walk.”
The desperation in his voice made Elena speechless. Carlisle hadn’t said anything about who attacked them or how he intended to punish them. Her only job as patient was to rest, but she was concerned whether Carlisle could stay with her for so long.
There was a tap on the door, and Carlisle stood up to open it. Standing outside was a maid with a tray in her hands.
“I-it’s time for Her Highness to eat.”
“Give it to me.”
Carlisle took the tray and returned to Elena’s bedside. He often fed her, insisting that too many people coming in and out of the room would disturb her rest. Elena didn’t know what to do with such behavior. Carlisle blew at the bowl of hot porridge and addressed Zenard without looking at him.
Zenard quickly bowed.
“Yes, Your Highness. I’ll visit you later.”
Rather than stopping there, Zenard also bowed to the bedridden Elena.
“I pray for your swift recovery.”
After giving his parting words, Zenard left the room. Carlisle looked intently at the porridge cooling in the bowl, then scooped up a spoonful and held it out to Elena.
“It may be hot, so eat carefully.”
“You don’t have to do this anymore.”
She hadn’t been able to sit properly until recently, but now she was able to raise herself from bed. She was not so helpless that she couldn’t eat a bowl of porridge by herself. However, Carlisle just gave a low chuckle.
“I’m not saying you can’t eat. I’m doing this just because I want to.”
Elena had never considered that before. She stiffened slightly when Carlisle drew near with the spoon, before eventually opening her mouth carefully and eating the porridge. It was embarrassing for her to be treated like a little child. From a young age, it was always Elena who cared for her weak sister Mirabelle.
Carlisle watched Elena as she ate.
“Eat and get better.”
A smile played on Carlisle’s lips.
“You’re good at what you say.”
He spoon-fed her until the bowl emptied. She ate as much as she could, knowing that he would worry if she didn’t eat properly. He set aside the bowl and carefully cleaned her mouth with a napkin.
Even this little routine became precious to Elena. In contrast, however, Carlisle’s expression was subdued.
“…I thought I’d lost you this time.”
“Don’t worry. This person’s life can’t be cut off so easily.”
She didn’t like the heavy atmosphere, and so she tried to inject some levity into it. Carlisle’s expression only grew more serious.
“Don’t risk your life for me, my wife.”
“I can’t. I’m—”
“I know, you’re an excellent knight. But not anymore. I’m not sure I can go through this again.”
Elena didn’t say it out loud, but she already had a vague notion that Carlisle was deeply unhappy. He always hated it when she was in danger, even when he had been trying to accept this side of her.
Elena sat up straighter and took Carlisle’s face in both her hands. Their gazes locked onto each others, and she spoke in a steady voice, facing Carlisle directly.
“I’m not risking my life for you because I’m a knight. Caril. If it were me that was about to be hit by that arrow, wouldn’t you throw yourself to save me?”
“My body ran as soon as I saw you were in danger. I’m not trying to protect you because of a previous contract we made. Now I—”
She took in a shuddering breath. This was the confession she made when she thought it would be the last time.
“—I want to protect you because I love you.”
Carlisle’s eyes widened with shock. Until now, she had always told him she wanted him to be emperor. But even if that weren’t the case now, she would still protect him.
“If it were to happen again, I would do it over for you. And it’s the same in the future. I won’t turn away even if there are tens of thousands of dangers.”
Carlisle’s expression ran through a gamut of emotions: happy, angry, sad, and happy again. Elena embraced Carlisle’s larger body without a word. There was a twinge on her back, but she bore through the pain.
“…I love you.”
She spoke her heartfelt confession again.
Carlisle buried himself deeper in her arms as if he couldn’t hold himself back anymore.
“I hate that you’re in danger because of me, but then you give me this.”
“Were you that worried about me?”
“…I thought I would go out of my mind.”
That alone seemed to convey Carlisle’s feelings towards her. Elena slowly stroked his back.
“I’m sorry for your hardship.”
Carlisle quietly buried his head on Elena’s shoulder. The moment he thought she died, he had so much anger in him that he wanted to destroy the whole world. When Elena’s eyes opened again, he vowed to do whatever he could so it stayed that way.
Strangely enough, when he heard Elena’s confession, he felt as happy as a fool. He almost wished that Elena was a woman who couldn’t do anything without him.
But Elena was not such a woman. She wouldn’t remain quiet in his arms where he could keep her away from any danger. The woman Carlisle fell in love with was far too strong for that. But her confession that she would never leave him alone was utterly mad…
‘I can’t repeat the same situation again.’
Carlisle’s closed eyelids slid open. His icy blue gaze now had a cruel glow to them.
‘…I want to be emperor as soon as possible.’
There was only one way to protect Elena, who risked her life to protect Carlisle. He had to get rid of all the dangers that threatened them.
Whatever the cost.