Nia said with a serious face.
“…Lady Vanessa, I will definitely repay you for today’s kindness.”
“Great. I’m someone who likes favors, so I won’t refuse. I dislike mean pranks or bullying, though.”
After saying that, Asha straightened her back and turned her gaze toward the noble ladies.
As they received her gaze, they all seemed visibly uncomfortable, averting their eyes.
“Everyone, while I was fighting, I thought deeply and realized that I don’t need a lady-in-waiting. I have to take care of His Majesty, so if there are too many ladies-in-waiting I have to protect, I’ll become tired, you see.”
As Asha finished speaking, she put her bow on her back and walked away confidently.
The noble ladies, who were staring at her back with blank expressions, suddenly became restless and coughed awkwardly without meeting each other’s eyes.
Unlike Asha, they had pushed each other away and fled at the first sign of danger, as if asking when they had ever been on the same side.
But then, at that moment…
With a distant scream-like shout, a thick rose scent blew in as a man with his sword drawn ran towards Asha like a lunatic.
He had rushed over with all the Cactus Knights after hearing news of an unknown monster appearing at the tea party.
Seeing the intimidating armored knights behind him, Asha’s jaw dropped.
Karaf rushed to her and was about to hug her, but he quickly changed his mind, thinking that Asha might be uncomfortable with physical contact.
However, he was so excited that he blurted out.
“Are you okay? Did you get hurt?”
“…… I’m fine, Your Majesty.”
When Asha replied calmly but with a hint of nervousness, Karaf immediately took her hand and examined it carefully, checking for any injuries or blisters.
His gaze was persistent and somehow clingy, making Asha swallow her saliva.
In truth, Karaf would have been content with just holding her hand, but Asha was unaware of his feelings…
With a relieved sigh, Karaf confirmed that there were no injuries and lowered his hand.
“I’m glad you’re unharmed.”
“Your Majesty, I wanted to clarify something that may be misunderstood.”
When Karaf raised his head, Asha smiled and continued.
“The monsters didn’t harm me at all.”
“Yes, I know better than anyone that there is no monster that can stand up against your archery skills.”
“Do you think a monster would only take the form of a bug?”
His red eyes flickered slightly.
Asha realized what he meant and fell silent.
Karaf seemed worried that she may have been hurt by the noble ladies rather than the monsters.
He knew too well about the past and had hardly done any work since she left the palace, fearing that they might harass her.
He had even considered secretly following her to protect her but gave up the idea since he knew she despised surveillance and confinement.
Asha gently took his arm, as if to reassure him, and said.
“Don’t worry, Your Majesty. Lady Nia gave me a beautiful bow as a gift, so I was able to defeat the monsters.”
“Yes. It must be a very good bow, seeing the monsters dead.”
Asha replied, suppressing a laugh as Karaf expressed his regret while looking over the scattered monsters’ bodies.
“Yes. It seems so.”
“But a gift. It’s a bit unexpected….”
Karaf said with a surprised expression.
Wasn’t it Lady Nia Delphinium who was aspiring for Vanessa’s position? However, seeing her trying to build a relationship with Asha by giving her a bow as a gift, he couldn’t figure out what she was up to.
As he looked for Nia, his gaze met hers in the distance. She politely lowered her head and gracefully left.
Karaf, who had thought she would try to seduce him, finally realized that she had given up on her ambition and looked at her back with half-doubt.
But soon his expression hardened as he saw that the bow Asha was holding had a bluish-gray tint.
He realized the hidden meaning behind the gift.
Before Karaf could get angry, Asha quickly led him away.
“Your Majesty, shall we return to the palace now? Since this commotion has occurred, we should postpone the selection of the lady-in-waiting.”
“Yes, let’s go back.”
Karaf replied, naturally escorting her away.
The noble ladies who saw the two of them walking together intimately had expressions as if they were enchanted.
They had previously thought that the kidnapping incident during the Flowering Ceremony would cause the relationship between Asha and Karaf to deteriorate.
However, after seeing them together now, they were convinced that they had misunderstood.
As Asha walked with Karaf, she made a slightly relieved expression.
The Empress, who was always alone in the palace, and the lonely Emperor had finally found comfort in each other and felt like they could face the world.
As a result of the incident, stories about Karaf and Asha became more popular at the nobles’ social gatherings, but no bad rumors were spread anymore.
Instead, many stories were circulating about Vanessa’s great archery skills, and Ella played the biggest role in spreading the rumors in the social circle.
She was thrilled to see that Asha had fought against the monsters so beautifully while wearing the dress she had made.
“Lady Vanessa… If you choose me as your Lady-in-waiting, I will be the happiest and most honored person in the world.”
Asha turned to her calmly.
“Then will you please?”
“I’m sorry…… I overstepped my boundaries…Yes?”
Ella looked at her in surprise.
Asha smiled softly and announced.
“I have already decided on my first lady-in-waiting.”
Ella’s eyes widened, and then she grabbed the hem of her dress and bowed.
“It’s an honor for me to serve as your lady-in-waiting, Lady Vanessa! I will do everything in my power to make sure you shine every day!”
“I’m counting on you.”
Asha replied with a smile.
Despite she was not of high status, Ella Ranunculus was of noble birth, which made her a legitimate candidate for the position of lady-in-waiting.
Moreover, she was already a well-known figure in the aristocratic circle due to the stunning dress she had designed for the Flowering Ceremony.
Since no one knew Vanessa’s fashion preferences better than Ella, they all agreed that she was the perfect choice for the position and had no objections to her appointment.
Sonya, too, clasped her hands with a dreamy face at the thought that she would see Asha in a luxurious dress every day in the future.
From the moment Karaf appeared, Sonya kept her mouth shut, but as soon as she returned to the palace, her previously sealed mouth opened wide.
She was so excited that she couldn’t stop talking to the servants about what she had seen at the tea party.
Karaf was curious about Asha’s performance and wanted a detailed report from his knights, but even their reports couldn’t match the vividness of the scene as described by Sonya.
After spreading rumors to her heart’s content and returning, she told Asha.
“Lady Vanessa, I’m really your fan! Please give me your autograph…!”
It was as if she was asking Asha to sign her clothes, and Asha hesitated.
“The clothes are a bit……”
“It’s okay! I have many of the same clothes!”
Sonya exclaimed innocently, but Asha thought seriously that she should buy her some new clothes.
In the end, she took out a handkerchief and signed it for Sonya. Sonya received the handkerchief and happily held it to her chest with her eyes closed.
Asha quietly asked her.
“By the way, was my villainous acting okay today?”
“What? A villainess? Was that a villainess?”
Sonya’s eyes widened.
“If it was a real villainess, we shouldn’t investigate monsters, but their mouths!”
“Oh! I’m sorry.”
Sonya was elated, bouncing up and down while covering her mouth.
Asha also covered her mouth and chuckled.
Sonya proudly declared.
“It’s okay. *You really flattened my nose! You were amazing! If Lady Vanessa were a man, I would have confessed my feelings to you!”
T/N: * This is often used humorously or exaggeratedly to show gratitude or admiration towards someone who has done something impressive or helpful.
Sonya realized she may have said something silly and slapped her mouth in embarrassment, but Asha couldn’t help but laugh out loud for the first time in a long while because of Sonya’s antics.
* * * * *
As the sun began to set, Jackal and Sosa returned to the village after finishing their training.
As they approached the entrance, they were greeted by the Nasson man who seemed to have been waiting for them.
“I heard about what happened at the dining hall last time… I didn’t expect such a thing to happen, I’m really sorry….”
He was perspiring heavily and rolling his eyes. Jackal said nonchalantly.
“It’s not your fault. Thanks to that, I was able to loosen up after a long time. Plus, I got a good idea of the skill level of the warriors who are guarding the village.”
At those words, the man visibly flinched once again.
“I asked the chief to set up a separate dining room. I hope the two of you can dine comfortably from now on.”
“Thanks for that.”
At his words, the man’s face lit up again.
It seemed like he was happy to help them even a little.
As they followed him into the hut, they saw numerous dishes laid out on a large table.
It was a carefully prepared meal just for the two of them.
The Nasson man politely clasped his hands and said.
“I apologize for the late introduction. My name is Ruan. If there is not enough food, please let me know at any time. I’ll bring it even if it means stealing all the food from my house. The Nasson clan have never lacked for crops from the land, having served the spirits of the land since ancient times.”
“What a prosperous clan.”
Upon hearing Jackal’s words, the man appeared apologetic and couldn’t lift his head.
After Ruan left, Sosa looked at the food with satisfaction but suddenly turned serious and asked him.
“Do you think there’s poison in the food….?”
“Honestly, I don’t want to doubt it, but it’s not impossible, particularly since they have set up surveillance again.”
“I can sense a presence outside.”
Jackal said as he gazed out the window with a charismatic look. Sosa’s expression quickly changed, and he glanced out the window.
Jackal ran his fingers over the well-cleaned tableware on the table before picking up an item and tossing it toward the door.
A knife was lodged in the wooden door, and a startled voice was heard from outside.
Jackal burst open the door roughly, revealing children with trembling legs cowering on the ground and gazing up at him.