WARNING: Sexual Violence. Rape.
“What? You’re not Anna?”
Eli doubted his own ears as he stopped his hand, reaching out for her breasts, in its tracks and quietly asked,
“Are you making up such an outrageous lie just to escape me right now?”
“I’m not Anna, but a bastard child of Viscount William’s. Anna is recuperating from a terrible illness right now. That’s why I came in her stead.”
Eli took a step back and held a candle up to Edna’s face as she quivered to get a better look at her. He hadn’t been able to see her before because the veil had been covering her face and she had been standing with her back to the candles in the bedroom, but he now saw her clearly. She definitely was not Anna. Eli blinked as he processed this unbelievable truth as he stared down frigidly at the silent girl.
Then, a moment later, he opened his mouth and spoke in a tone that was as cold as ice.
“Who are you?”
Edna replied while shuddering at the chilled glint in his eyes.
“I’m Edna. Viscount William’s bastard child.”
“Yes. A bastard born between Viscount William and a common woman. I never meant to deceive you. But I had no choice but to come in Anna’s stead because her condition was so serious.”
Her slender face, her hair that was only reddish at the ends, her smooth skin, and her quivering pink lips. But the way she squared her shoulders and straightened herself even as her entire body was trembling in fear was more impressive than anything else.
Eli was lost in thought for a brief moment as he motionlessly observed her. He was a bit disappointed that she wasn’t Anna. Still, the girl before him was just as beautiful.
He quietly moved his gaze and looked over her figure again. He saw how her chest heaved every time she took a breath. His lust immediately beat down at him again.
“She’s ill, you said? It wasn’t that she simply refused to come marry a man as lowly as me?”
Edna nodded in response to Eli’s quiet question. Her hair, which had finally been freed from Eli’s hands, tumbled down to her shoulders when she did. Her hair was rather short for a woman’s. There was a subtle elegance in her bastard visage. Eli opened his mouth again as his eyes rested on the stubborn bridge of her nose and the sharp lines of her lips.
“So you came here voluntarily even knowing you could lose your life?”
There was no way she would have come here voluntarily. She had never had a choice to begin with. Not unless you counted the ‘choice’ of obeying everything she was told without question. Even still, she nodded silently. Naturally, Eli wasn’t one to believe her.
“Viscount William’s bastard must be quite the generous woman, seeing that you’re telling me you came here to be my wife voluntarily. I must certainly rate you highly for that. But…”
Eli stopped speaking for a moment and grabbed Edna’s face to force her to look at him. Edna met his cold eyes with composure. Eli continued as he stared into her golden eyes.
“It was a terrible choice, Edna, to sacrifice yourself like this when they probably don’t even treat you like a proper daughter. I pity you. You must’ve heard the rumors about what kind of person I am—didn’t they frighten you?”
“Those rumors meant nothing to me anyway,”
Edna said while thinking that she was as good as dead. She continued,
“I didn’t have any other choice.”
Eli saw what kind of situation Edna had been in clearly before his eyes. Even he knew that no bastard child would have ever been given a choice. It was obvious that Edna had never had any say in the matter until now. Eli knew that Edna had come here, as if she had been forcibly dragged, knowing fully well that she could die. Her words were calm, as if she had already made peace with her coming death. Eli’s curiosity and desires flared up once more, but he didn’t betray those emotions at all as he opened his mouth and coldly asked,
“Are you a virgin?”
Edna opened her eyes wide at his unexpected question. Eli slowly continued,
“It was preposterous to give a noble to a commoner like me. A lowly bastard might even suit me better. You’re no less beautiful than Anna, and I quite like your appearance.”
Edna endured the pain she had suffered at his hands upon learning that he was thinking of accepting her.
According to the rumors, Eli should have killed her on the spot and laid wreckage to Viscount William’s lands for deceiving him. So why was he about to accept her instead? However, the question quickly vanished from her mind. She had ended up exposing her entire being to him. Edna broke out of his gaze, picked up her clothes from the floor, and covered up her front with them.
“Remove that at once if you don’t want to die.”
His voice was quiet but strong. It carried the will to really do as he said he would. Edna made such an effort to hold back her tears that her eyelids began to tremble.
“You won’t live to see the sun rise tomorrow if you aren’t a virgin.”
It was but a simple threat. Edna’s pride flared up when she grasped that he would really kill her. Her heart cried out that she couldn’t quietly accept her death like this, that she hadn’t survived just to die so helplessly like this. She flung aside the clothes covering her chest.
Eli watched her with an arched eyebrow. It was clear to him that she had a greater character than she initially appeared to have.
Edna looked Eli, who was still watching her, in the eye and asked him a question. This time, she was truly prepared to die when she spoke.
“Will you accept me if I’m a virgin?”
“As my wife? Or as a woman in my bed?”
Eli furrowed his brows at Edna’s unhesitant reply and coldly spat out,
“I dislike the tone of your voice.”
“There’s no helping it. I will say what I need to say before I die. So answer me. Will you accept me if I’m a virgin, or will you kill me regardless?”
“You really are something. Aren’t you afraid of me?”
“There’s nothing that I fear more than death. If it’s possible, I want to live.”
Edna knew death so well that it had been engraved into her heart. She could never forget the people who had died right before her eyes. The same was true of Eli. There was nothing more ridiculous and absurd as someone who said that they’d rather die. Death. It was the end of all things. Eli knew better than anyone else of how weak people were in the face of death. It was clear to him that Edna, who had said that she wanted to live, knew exactly what death was.
“How amusing. So you want to live?”
“If possible, yes,”
Edna added as she gulped.
“I’ll consider it if you can satisfy me.”
Eli grabbed Edna roughly by the hair and pulled her firmly into his grasp the moment the words had left his mouth. As he ran his hands over her exposed body, he quietly whispered,
“I’ll have to see for myself how great you are. I’ll see for myself if you’re worth keeping alive.”
Edna’s heart was pounding so hard that she thought it might burst when Eli spun her around and pushed her against the wall. Her body, held captive by fear once more, automatically stiffened up.
Eli directly felt her flinch.
The king would stop nagging him to get married once he took in a wife. And, he could pacify the wariness of the other lieges if he took in a wife of a lowly birth like Edna instead of a Viscount’s daughter. After all, she was a bastard who couldn’t offer him even the slightest amount of political support. And besides, hadn’t she aroused his base desires right from the very beginning?
Eli had already decided to have his way with Edna before he had planned to accept her. Just like how he had treated the other women before her. No, he would corner her more roughly and frighten her even more than the others to teach her the price of having deceived him.
But, when Edna refused to listen, as she had earlier, Eli threw her over his shoulder and tossed her on top of the bed. Then, he took her before she could fully grasp what had just happened.
Eli’s breath caught for a moment. It really was her first time. Still, he didn’t stop.
Once his ragged breathing had subsided, Eli put on the clothes that had fallen to the ground and left the room.
Edna, who was lying motionless with her face buried in her pillow, heard him leave. But she didn’t have the strength to pick up her clothes from the floor or even the strength to pull the covers over herself. She stayed like that for a long while before she finally picked herself up. Unstoppable sobs escaped her lips the very moment she did. She poured out every cry that she had held in for so long with her hands over her mouth and her shoulders heaving.
Edna hadn’t cried even when she had first escaped. She hadn’t cried after the harsh floggings she’d endured after becoming a maid either. Nor had she yielded to her tears in face of everything she had suffered at the hands of the knights at Viscount William’s castle. But not now. She had prepared herself when she had first come to this place in Anna’s stead, but she had never even imagined that it would be so horrible and so terrifying.
Edna climbed out of the bed and went into the bath, which had already cooled down. She frowned at the sore and aching pains of her body and began to firmly wash herself. She focused only on the fact that she was still alive.
“That’s right, I’m going to survive. I’m going to survive to the bitter end and watch how the world crashes and burns with my own eyes,”
Edna said to herself quietly as she made her resolve.
Eli got up and kicked off his covers when the burning sunlight pierced his eyes. After pouring heaps of water haphazardly over his head and wrapping a towel around it, he returned to his room, fumbling around in search of the clothes he had tossed away wildly the night before, and narrowed his eyes as he looked to the table. His clothes, which he was sure had been strewn carelessly on the floor, were sitting neatly folded on the table.
Someone had entered his room without his permission! No, ignoring that, Eli was startled by the fact that he hadn’t woken up and got dressed in a hurry. His prized longsword had been placed next to the table. Eli scowled at the unbelievable evidence before him and fastened his longsword to his waist. It was only then that he fully returned to his senses at last.
He scowled even deeper as the burning sunlight entering the room was absorbed by the moisture in the air and permeated into his eyes and fell into deep thought.
It had already been two years since the civil war had ended, but Cayden had been forced to skillfully placate the nobles who had sided with the late king by using both the carrot and the stick in order to reinforce his royal authority ever since. This was why Eli and his men had had little choice but to continuing fighting battles that were punitive in nature. It was also why Eli had only just returned to this land a month ago.
Everyone had fled the castle during his absence save for two maids and one servant. It was unreasonable to expect that the large and spacious castle could be maintained with such few personnel, so the castle was always dirty and caked with dust. But Eli didn’t care in the slightest. As long as no one entered his room without his permission, that is. And yet, someone had soundlessly entered and exited his room without his knowing for the first time yesterday.
Eli opened his door and stepped outside. Right away, he vividly recalled what had happened the day before and threw a quick glance in the direction of Edna’s room. He made to move toward her room, curious about what Edna was doing, but stopped and went down the hall instead when his ears pricked and picked up on something quiet.
He had thought that Edna would be crying in bed but found her in the hall instead. He narrowed his eyes when he saw that she was in the middle of cleaning. She was cleaning the large hall alone in a somewhat slow and clumsy manner.
“Why are you doing something that a maid should be doing?”
Edna flinched instinctively when she suddenly heard his voice but did not turn around to look up at him. Naturally, she didn’t answer him either. She didn’t turn around even when Eli had walked down the stairs to stand behind her either.
Eli examined her carefully in curiosity. The first thing that entered his sight was how tense her shoulders were from her anxiety. The roots of her hair were blonde, but the ends were tangled with an unsightly red, as if she had dyed it on purpose. It was because of those reddish ends that her hair had looked like it had caught on fire in the candlelight.
Edna was holding onto her broom tightly with her bizarrely gold and red hair tied back in one rough ponytail. It was as if she was trying to show Eli that he had even just one reason to let her live.
Eli continued to examine her with his cold gaze. The grey satin dress that she had draped over her slender frame was ridiculously short on her. She was at least a head taller than the average woman. Still, Eli felt that her figure from behind had so much elegance to it that it put her label as a bastard to shame even when she was wearing a dress that clearly exposed her ankles.
“I see that the Viscount disrespects me quite a fair bit to have sent you to me dressed like that.”
Edna flinched at his words but continued to sweep the floor. Excluding the snow-white dress that she had worn yesterday, all of the clothes that she had brought with her were clothes that Anna had asked the nuns at the monastery to salvage.
“Are you planning to get married dressed like that?”
Only then did Edna finally stop sweeping and moistened her dry lips with her tongue before opening her mouth to speak with her eyes ever fixed on the floor.
“You ripped up the dress I was supposed to wear for my wedding yesterday,”
she retorted quietly.
“Didn’t I tell you that I don’t like it when you talk back to me?”
“Then should I not respond at all?”
Edna mumbled coldly as she started sweeping again in irritation. A small chuckle escaped Eli’s lips. Edna was like a baby lion snarling with its tiny claws out. He felt like he could see the stubbornness and pride radiating out from her rigid spine. Eli chuckled yet again, but he wiped the smirk clean off his face before he spoke, intending to uphold the deal that had cost Edna her virginity.
“We’ll have to start by fitting you into new clothes when we get to town.”
Edna turned around in surprise at his unbelievable words. Eli shrugged and continued as if it was but a trivial matter.
“We can’t hold a wedding with your dress in tatters. And a dress that’s too short for you like the one you’re wearing looks even worse.”
A question escaped out of Edna’s mouth before she could stop it when she realized that Eli meant to accept her as his wife.
“Why……are you accepting me as your wife?”
“Who can say?”
Eli looked motionlessly down at Edna as the sunlight illuminated her face and muttered,
“I suppose it’s easier to say that I’ve taken your maidenhood as payment. I told you yesterday, didn’t I? I would consider it if you were a virgin and if you proved to me that you were worth keeping alive. It looks like you haven’t heard the rumor that I’m the type of man who keeps his word yet.”
Eli narrowed his eyes a moment later. He had discovered the healing bruise that was still on her face. It had mostly faded away, but it was still clear evidence that someone had beaten her.
“Who did this to you?”
Eli grabbed her by the chin and pointed her face toward himself as he muttered in disbelief. It was only then that Edna realized that he had seen the bruise on her face and she tried to escape his grasp while hiding her face with both hands. However, Eli paid no heed to her resistance and mumbled, as if to himself,
“Did Viscount William beat you to make you come here?”
“No. That’s not it.”
Edna replied reflexively while shaking her head and tried to break free of him again. However, Eli grabbed her tightly by the shoulders with both hands and asked again. His voice was slightly stronger in tone, as if he was infuriated.
“Then what is this? Did I do this to you?”
“I said it wasn’t anything like that. I just fell. Since I make a lot of mistakes…….”
“You fell? Surely you’re not trying to tell me that you fell while holding someone else’s fists and hit your head against them? You didn’t fall over because you were beaten?”
Underneath his cold gaze, Edna learned that Eli’s eyes were far sharper than she had originally thought. To think that he could identify the barely visible marking with just one glance. Still, she couldn’t exactly tell him the truth either. And so, she stubbornly kept her mouth shut.
“Very well. Then, at the very least, you will not be beaten when you’re with me.”
Edna discretely looked up at Eli at his firm words. His hair was a dazzling gold. Blond hair was rare for a commoner. Yet, Edna was sure that his blond hair was surely the color of the sun. And, his indigo eyes had grey mixed into them. His broad and sturdy shoulders and his solid body, forged through the fires of war, were so robust that it was scary. None of the rumors had ever mentioned that he was blond. It was probably because his hair had never once been visible while he was fighting in battle. After all, he had likely crossed the battlefields with his hair stained red with blood.