A strong wind blew into the Imperial Palace and everyone was nervous.
Karaf was restless and anxious, unable to keep still.
He felt that he had to find any trace of Asha to solve his problem.
If there was anything that could feel her traces, his anxious mind would be more at ease.
Karaf frantically searched the empress’s palace where Asha lived, but he did not find much in this palace.
Everything in the room was gifted from him, but for some reason, they seemed like just gaudy decorations and he couldn’t feel any trace of her.
He couldn’t even feel the scent of her fragrant body or the slightest trace of her touch.
As if there was no one in this room in the first place…
And that drove him crazy.
Karaf ordered the chamberlain to bring all her belongings when she first entered the palace.
She didn’t really have much when she came here.
Karaf’s face crumpled even more as he looked at the small basket of belongings.
However, the moment he found something on it, he inadvertently hit the desk with his fist.
The loud sound startled all the servants and knights around him.
Karaf picked up one of Asha’s belongings with trembling hands, his eyes grew bigger.
It was a steel-colored dagger.
His trembling fingers slowly brushed against the horse’s face carved on the dagger.
The horse was so familiar to him.
No, it’s a face I’ll never forget.
Because it looked exactly like the damn horse that stole Asha from the flowering ceremony.
Karaf’s hands trembled and his face contorted in pain.
“Vanessa…… You lied to me.”
She clearly stated that it was a horse that she had raised in her village.
But as if the horse had been prepared, as soon as the opportunity presented itself, it ran on its back, and the Lycaons immediately attacked the temple.
Did she deceive me by conspiring with them from the beginning?
Even the woman he trusted ultimately betrayed him…
The spy’s last curse resounded unpleasantly in his ears.
‘…… Just because Vanessa is by your side? I bet my life she resents you and hate you.’
Karaf clenched his fist so hard it cut his skin.
He made up his mind to never trust minorities again…….
He felt so pathetic that he thought this time would be different.
He felt so insignificant and miserable for having been betrayed even by his beloved woman, that he couldn’t bear it.
Duran hurried over to him.
Karaf muttered, staring straight ahead as if he had lost his soul.
“Didn’t she say that she would abandon everything and stay by my side?”
“I believed that…… She tried to distract me with sweet words to betray me. Is that how everything was from the beginning…….? Betrayal always flows in the blood of the goddamn minorities. Isn’t that right, Duran?”
Seeing him mutter like a maniac with glowing red eyes, Duran quickly said.
“Your Majesty, please calm down. It is still unclear if Lady Vanessa betrayed Your Majesty.”
“Then why hasn’t she returned if she didn’t? That damn horse keeps running nonstop?”
As he said between laughs, Duran lowered his head and answered.
“…… There has to be something. I also saw Vanessa being very surprised by the sudden action of her horse at the Flowering Ceremony. The horse was out of control. Judging by Lady Vanessa’s reaction, Lycaon could have committed the meticulous crime themselves. The reason why Lady Vanessa can’t return to the palace maybe because she is being closely watched by her. Vanessa already has a history of running away without them knowing.”
Those words sounded plausible.
Perhaps Vanessa wanted to come to him, but the persistent wild dogs took her by force and locked her up somewhere.
It certainly wasn’t a coincidence that Sheppy the horse entered the imperial palace, but it must have been part of their elaborate plan.
Vanessa has nothing to do with them.
Vanessa… she may not have contacted them.
Karaf regained his reason for a moment hoping that a small spark in his heart would ignite when he only had ashes in it, but he was soon confused again.
But hadn’t she already talked to the spy without his knowledge?
She might have fallen for his nonsense. She could have changed her mind and decided to leave him for another flower.
Karaf muttered calmly to himself.
“Just one last time…… I want to trust her just one more time. Duran, as you said, there is a possibility that the Lycaons are imprisoning the butterfly to rebel……. Maybe Vanessa doesn’t know anything and she’s just a victim getting caught up in their plans…….”
“That’s right, Your Majesty.”
Duran responded quickly as if he had been waiting.
“But if…… If she doesn’t come back even when I destroy Lycaon….”
Karaf couldn’t bear to say anything and choked back the words.
The moment he said it, he was afraid that the words would turn into seeds and blossom into flowers.
Knowing how he felt, Duran seriously said.
“That will never happen. So rest assured, Your Majesty. Lady Vanessa is not one of those people. Didn’t she save Your Majesty’s life?”
That talk brought a lot of peace to Karaf.
It was the defining moment that made him completely trust Asha.
He couldn’t even doubt that moment.
Suspecting that even that was insincere, there was nothing left for him.
Seeing Karaf calm down, Duran handed him the report he had been hiding behind his back.
Karaf asked, looking at the report.
“What is this?”
“This is a request. As a result of the search in the northern region of Herta, we found someone who had commissioned Lycaon before. He is a minority.”
Karaf took it and read it quickly. His gaze moved quickly over the paper.
He spoke a bit desperate.
“But Lycaon must have moved by now. They know we’re looking for them, but they won’t show up twice in the same area.”
“Yes. However, on the contrary, if we request them, we may be able to catch their tails.”
“……make a request?”
Karaf raised his head and asked curiously. Duran responded seriously.
“Yes. We caught the man and questioned him, he said that Lycaon always used a hawk when receiving requests. The other day, the bandits also told me that Lycaon had sent a hawk and contacted his comrades. How about using that man to make a false request to Lycaon? We can give him one condition, if he cooperates with the Imperial Family, he will be released.”
“……That’s not a bad idea. But right now they must be busy running away, will they have the spirit to accept the request?”
Duran’s eyes turned serious.
“I don’t know about Lycaon, but Lady Vanessa will accept that request.”
Karaf asked, but soon realized something and his eyes widened a little.
* * * * *
Asha told Jackal about the conversation she had with the minority spy.
Jackal’s face hardened as he found out what had happened to Asha without his knowledge, and that she had been imprisoned in her room for it.
“…… The emperor must have been so mad at that man. I can’t believe there’s another flower beside him in this bloody empire…….”
Asha asked with a worried and anxious look on her face.
“He said if I go to the temple I will instinctively know who is he. Should I find him and make him bloom……?”
Jackal remained silent for a while.
He honestly wanted her to be truly free, now that she was back here, free of all her duties or responsibilities as a butterfly. He wanted her to forget all about the imperial family, the empire, and minorities, and think about her own life in her new home.
Just as he left the village long ago and founded Lycaon.
But Jackal knew that she would do it differently than he did.
And as expected, Asha couldn’t erase what the spy said from her head, and even after coming here, she was still confused and unable to calm down.
‘If he blooms, it will hurt not only you but everyone in the Empire. And minorities will never be able to escape from the vicious circle.’
Asha didn’t know exactly what that meant.
Somehow, she did as the spy told her and ran away from him, but her heart ached at the memory of Karaf’s sad expression.
Obviously, for the sake of minorities and the people, it seemed right not to enlighten Karaf.
But what if I walk away from him, who was betrayed by a trusted friend and cursed into a tyrant?
Then what will happen to him?
To leave him until he withers is to do the same as his mother, the ancestor Butterfly, did to him.
As Asha was deep in thought, Jackal opened his mouth.
“I will support your decision unconditionally.”
“Do whatever you want. Whatever decision you make, I will stick to it.”
Asha looked at him in surprise. Jackal continued to speak with serious eyes.
“I think that your return to the past is also the result of your will being reflected, even a little. You barely got a second life. Do as you please.”
“You saved me, and you saved Lycaon. My life is yours now.”
Jackal’s blue eyes looked even bluer in the moonlight streaming through the window.
Asha looked at his serious face with trembling eyes.
Jackal said calmly.
“There is a saying that kelpies, long called horse warriors, serve only one master.”
He dropped to one knee on the ground as if taking the oath of knighthood.
Asha’s eyes grew bigger just looking at him.
“No matter what they say, my master, no, my king is Asha, you. Whatever happens, I will follow my chosen king.”
He lifted Asha’s hand and lightly kissed the back of it.
It was a ritual passed down from generation to generation when the kelpies took an oath.
The touch of his warm, soft lips on the back of her hand made Asha’s heart pound like crazy.