When the crown princess of Aouine walked onto the second floor of the great hall, she seemed to be following in the footsteps of Elsa or Rorina, the two ice queens. A wintry hush fell over the great hall and also seemed to pass by everyone like a phantom. The sound drifted down, frozen into a powder, and just like the Miirna people of the ice said, “Phantoms can swallow a person’s voice.”
Brendel withdrew his gaze from the ostentatious balcony and met Gryphine’s. The elven princess leaned her hands against the banister and looked down at Brendel with dagger-like eyes. His heart jumped.
Brendel vaguely sensed something different about the look Princess Gryphine gave him. It was ice-cold, like the kind an executioner would give to a prisoner sentenced to death.
“What is it?” Whether it was his previous life or this life, he’d never seen Her Royal Highness look at him with that look.
The abnormal stillness seemed to last only a moment. Princess Gryphine withdrew her gaze and then announced from the second floor that the ball has officially begun. Only then did the musicians seem to come awake and the melodious sounds of the xylophone rang out in the hall.
Everything that happened before seemed to just be a hallucination, but Brendel still felt uneasy as he watched Her Royal Highness turn around and walk down the stairs. He turned around and asked the little prince disguised as Princess Bessidine, “Haruz, what else did your sister tell you?”
“Teacher…” Haruz looked like he wanted to speak but couldn’t. His pale slender neck shone under the lights, but they were covered with tiny beads of sweat, making him seem a bit nervous.
Just then, a gloomy voice from behind them interrupted Haruz, “Viscount.”
Brendel turned around to see an elderly handmaiden standing behind him and Haruz. The handmaiden wore a light blue ritual robe. Her hair was white and every wrinkle on her face added a trace of authority to her. Her face softened slightly only when she looked at them and she let out a polite smile, “Viscount Cauldell, Lady Bessidine. Her Royal Highness wishes to see you.”
“Her Royal Highness? Wants to see us?”
“Yes, Her Royal Highness is waiting for you and Lady Bessidine over there.” The handmaiden answered.
“What does Her Royal Highness want with us?” Questions arose in Brendel’s mind. He still thought the cold look Princess Gryphine gave him meant something. Beside, Haruz had just come from his sister’s and now Her Royal Highness was asking them to come back. Clearly, it had nothing to do with her “sister.”
Everything happening now was drastically different from what happened in history. Brendel knew that Cauldell’s memories played a role in this, but it was no easy task to separate them from the dream and then to discover the goal they represented.
Brendel suddenly thought of a possibility, “What would it be like if, in this dream, Viscount Cauldell was the Princess’ enemy?” If Viscount Cauldell opposed Princess Gryphine, then perhaps there was an easy explanation for the look the princess gave him.
“But if Viscount Cauldell opposed the Crown Princess, then who could he possibly be?”
Dreams might be myths, but these myths didn’t come out of nowhere. Just like how humans couldn’t imagine something they hadn’t seen before -- even legendary creatures such as dragons or ghosts were based on something they had seen in real life before. For example, horses with horns or vicious monsters with lion heads and eagle bodies. This meant that for Viscount Cauldell to appear in this ball, he had to have taken someone’s place.
“Who would it be? Cauldell’s fragmented memory would definitely pick someone with a similar experience as him. That person wouldn’t be anonymous, because he had to have some connection to Haruz, who was representing Princess Bessidine.”
Brendel suddenly remembered that before Haruz married Ellara, he actually had a previous marriage contract. The person he was promised to was the adoptive daughter of Duke Arreck, someone named Essa. Though the woman had left no trace in history, Brendel knew that she was actually a mage who had successfully activated her elementals. Her real identity was an assassin and spy for Arreck.
Which meant that if Haruz was now Bessidine, the younger sister to Princess Gryphine in this dream, then his identity was very likely the “Essa” in this dream, a spy and assassin for Duke Arreck.
Brendel suddenly felt inexplicably chilled to the bone. He wondered what Viscount Cauldell’s true wish was. Was it the regret for having failed the assassination? Or regret at having completed the assassination?
If it was the former…
He shivered and then turned around to look at the second floor again. That tightly shut door seemed to lodge in his heart like an omen of misfortune. Brendel turned around to look at Haruz -- if they had to kill Princess Gryphine to leave his dream, would the little prince be able to accept that?
He shook his head inwardly.
“Viscount?” The elder handmaiden realized Brendel was lost in thought and asked again.
Brendel then came back to himself and nodded at her, indicating that she should bring them over to the princess. Just as the handmaiden had said, Princess Gryphine was indeed waiting for them at one side of the great hall. She stood under the oil painting of Anson the Eleventh. This ancestor had once brought about a brief period of rejuvenation for Aouine, just like her.
The two also seemed to suffer a similar fate.
The princess was looking up at the oil painting and only turned around when she realized the two getting closer. Brendel noticed that her silver eyes were no longer cold, as if everything he had seen before was just a misperception.
The Crown Princess let out a warm smile when she saw Brendel and Haruz. “I’ve kept you waiting, Viscount Cauldell. But the situation is dire now and Bessidine is so young. I had to instruct her on some things beforehand.”
“It doesn't matter.” Brendel answered even as he thought about his hypothesis before this. If Cauldell really was an assassin, then it was likely his identity had been discovered before this or else Her Royal Highness wouldn’t adopt that kind of expression.
But he was curious what the Crown Princess wanted to see him for. If she wanted to have him killed, then the best opportunity would be to do it while he and Haruz were separated and not let her sister return to his side.
Princess Gryphine gave them a glance and asked quietly, “Viscount Cauldell, do you still remember what I said to you before?”
“... Which sentence is your highness referring to?” Brendel was slightly stunned. As the interloper in the dream, he didn’t have any memories of what happened before. If things progressed as in history, then he could guess. But now the entire ball was outside of his control.
Princess Gryphine gave him a look filled with sarcasm, “Duke Arreck is about to arrive. I know he has plans for tonight. But I plan on publicizing your relationship with Bessidine before then. I once told you -- if something happens to me, you and Bessidine can inherit the right to the throne and publicly oppose Arreck.”
“Though the nobles might not stand with us, they are also not likely to be truly aligned with Arreck. Ever since the battle at Amper Seale, Arreck has gained many enemies, even mortal ones. Once I die, they won’t stand by and watch him ascend to the throne. The house of Seifer has grievances with him; I did show mercy to my older brother once. After I die, he may not become your ally, but he will definitely be Arreck’s enemy. Aside from that, old friends at Lantonilan would stand firmly behind you…”
“Sister…” Haruz couldn’t resist saying.
“Bessidine, do not interrupt.” Gryphine looked at her “sister” and said seriously, “From today onwards, you must learn to endure silently.”
Then she sighed wearily. “I didn’t want it to come to this. Madarra is watching us, ever ready to pounce. Aouine has already lost its last chance, but Kirrlutz might not want to directly face up against the Undead. So maybe they’ll turn around and support you. That is the last chance for Aouine --”
Brendel stood by and listened quietly to what the princess was saying. He thought things were odd. In his mind, he had practically identified Viscount Cauldell as the assassin in history. He knew that Princess Gryphine very likely knew Viscount Cauldell’s identity. But it was strange for her to say all of this in front of him.
“Wasn’t she worried about him spilling the secrets?”
“Or maybe she already considered him a dead man?”
In that instant, Brendel couldn’t guess at what the princess was thinking. But the dream had already progressed past his knowledge. Viscount Cauldell’s dream, his dream, and Haruz’s dream overlapped each other. He could even smell the thick scent of blood in the air.
He looked back at Haruz. The “little princess” had the same worried look on his face.
As if she had finished declaring her dying wish, Princess Gryphine smiled and lifted her wine glass to Brendel and Haruz -- Brendel knew that in the course of history, the Crown Princess hadn’t been wholly unaware of her impending death or she wouldn’t have moved Haruz to safety before then. What she said today she had also said to the core members of the Scarlet Travelers, just not as directly.
As he thought back, the Crown Princess had made her meaning clear but, unfortunately, only Bai Jia had sensed that something was wrong.
For an instant, Brendel couldn’t help but feel a bit depressed. He watched the Princess’ movements and also took up the wine glass from a silver tray beside him -- though he never paid it much attention, but after months of training from Amandina, he was able to grasp some of the rudimentary formalities between nobles.
“Viscount Cauldell, for you and for Bessidine as well for Aouine. Cheers.” The Crown Princess looked at her with those silvery eyes as she raised her glass. When she said “for Aouine,” she briefly lost control of her emotions but she still raised her glass very naturally to her lips and sipped once.
Brendel was about to raise his glass when Haruz suddenly reached out and knocked the glass out of his hands. The glass tumbled against the carpet.
“Don’t drink, teacher. The wine is poisoned.” The little princess cautioned in an excited voice.
Brendel paused briefly but his face didn’t show many signs of surprise. He looked up to watch the princess in front of him. Since he had guessed Viscount Cauldell’s role, he had guessed the wine would be problematic. He had never intended to drink the wine but he hadn’t counted on Haruz going against his own sister’s wishes. s
Though they were in a myth, this was a rare move coming from the little prince.
“Bessidine!” Her Royal Highness was completely stunned by her sister’s actions. Brendel saw her clench her fist and those slender eyebrows furrow until they were almost twisted together. She took a deep breath and then asked coldly, “What are you doing?”
“Sister, Sir Brendel wouldn’t hurt you... You-you’ve got it wrong. He’s not that kind of person!” Haruz didn’t dare rebuke his sister, so he could only lower his head and explain quietly.
Princess Gryphine paused briefly and looked at her own “sister” and then at Brendel. “Who is that? Bessidine, what are you talking about?”
“No-No…” Haruz realized then that he had misspoken and hurriedly corrected himself, “Viscount Cauldell, he-he’s a good person.”
Brendel was randomly declared a “good person” and, more importantly, it was a boy who named him a “good person.” This made him feel slightly awkward but he didn’t explain himself. He merely stood by and watched the scene unfold because in that instant, he could feel something shaking itself loose in the depth of his heart.
That was the impulse coming from the dream.
Which meant that Viscount Cauldell personally experienced everything happening in front of him once, at some point in time, during some kind of ball.
Bessidine was arguing with her sister.
This scene awoke a memory in Viscount Cauldell. Brendel could almost feel the honorless knight return to the time he belonged.
He looked up and saw the entire great hall changing. It gradually changed from the architectural style popular after Aouine’s rejuvenation back to a more ancient time. The glorious relief sculptures from Anson the Eleventh disappeared and the bannisters along the stairs transformed into a more simple and unadorned wooden bannister. All the decorations and the clothing on the crowd around them reverted back to a style that Brendel -- no, more accurately, the elven lady inside Brendel’s body -- was intimately familiar with.
The time when Wind Elves made a return to glory.
It was Elves --
Brendel had heard Sanorso talk multiple times about the era she lived in. Now everything he saw was so familiar, almost exactly like what he had heard about.
When he looked back, Haruz was blocking Princess Gryphine.
“Bessidine, he’s an assassin from Arreck! He’s no longer the Cauldell you know. He’s long betrayed you.”
“Sister, no. Absolutely no because Brendel… Sir Caudell he --”
Haruz tried to explain quietly but all of a sudden he thought of a terrifying possibility. That beautiful face instantly paled and he turned around, looking at Brendel in fear, “Sir Brendel, you…”
At the same time, the impulse in Brendel’s heart grew stronger.
He seemed to hear a voice repeatedly cry out in his mind, “Kill her!”
In that instant he understood. That was Viscount Cauldell’s role. Brendel put his hand on the scabbard of the Staff of Earth and looked down slightly. Cold sweat gathered in his palm.
“What to do?”