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Sanctuary

It was the nation of Rashta that completed the continent under one empire. As a tribute and pledge of allegiance, one of the princesses of Rashta was offered as a bride to the empire.

Sanctuary is a short story written by Reiu Somao-I and shared with The Ugly Writers for the month of August.

 

Sanctuary

 

 

He met her in a bloody battlefield. Her crimson cold eyes struck him since then but to his surprise they met again due to an unexpected arrangement. A former enemy turns out to be the unfavored princess that he never thought will be his sanctuary in that empire full of lies.

Elysine Empire was a prosperous, wealthy and powerful empire after the current King conquered the last nation in the south to unite the whole continent. After the long war with a mission to bring peace to the continent, everything else was back to normal and the empire proceeded to strengthen their inner power.

It was the nation of Rashta that completed the continent under one empire. As a tribute and pledge of allegiance, one of the princesses of Rashta was offered as a bride to the empire. The King gave the princess to the young Duke of the empire, his own nephew, the Leader of the Empire’s knight, Xavier Ardent.

The Duke was described as a fearless man leading the empire’s knight in every war and bringing absolute victory. However, due to his bloodstained hands from war, he was also feared by many though adored by his perfect appearance not lacking in any aspect just like the princes of the empire. He was described as cold as ice and was never good with people. No one was good enough to keep up with him that’s why even though he’s already in marriageable age,  no lady was good enough.

The day has come when he would finally meet his bride to be. The princess from Rashta will arrive in the duke’s residence making the whole mansion busy.

An elegant white carriage arrived at exactly eight in the morning. All servants of the Ardent mansion came to greet the future duchess. It was the Butler, Rolan who opened the carriage to welcome the princess but all of them were shocked upon seeing her.

As professional as they are,  all servants bowed their heads and greeted the princess while trying to hide their reaction seeing her.

Princesses are always thought to be elegant,  beautiful and have long hair that compliments their appearance but this princess in front of them was different.

Her hair was short, not even reaching her shoulder and her dress was quite simple. Though her eyes were really captivating with crimson red color partnered by her raven black hair which was not really common in the empire, her overall aura was not really remarkable if the servants would comment on it.

“Welcome to Ardent mansion, Princess Ranreinee Regulus of Rashta Nation.” The butler greeted.

The princess just bowed her head and followed the butler’s lead to meet the duke. She was led to the duke’s study room.

As the butler knocked on the door and announced the arrival of the princess, a voice from the other side of the door was heard granting the permission to enter.

The duke was working on some documents not even giving a glance to the princess who already walked in.

“Greetings to the great duke of Elysine Empire, the leader of the empire’s knight, Duke Xavier Ardent.” A cold monotone voice greeted him.

Upon hearing the greeting, Xavier’s eyes widened. His hands stopped moving and slowly lifted his head to meet the owner of the voice. A pair of ruby-like eyes was staring at him.

“You’re…” Xavier’s voice seems dry. His eyes scanned the princess from head to toe.

“I’m the princess of Rashta nation offered to the empire as a tribute. Pleased to meet you, Duke Ardent.”

“What’re you doing here?  Did you plan on this?” The duke was in his defensive state. He knows that crimson red eyes very well.

“I’m a victim of this incident. If you want to cancel the engagement feel free to do so, but be sure to inform his majesty.”

Xavier sighed. He has always been calm and never got shaken by anything until today. Meeting this princess made him panic.

“Take a seat first, princess.”

An awkward silence surrounds them. The duke doesn’t want to be rude so he speaks up first. “Do you want some tea?”

“No need to be so considerate of me but thank you,  your grace. I believe you want to ask something. Please go ahead.”

The young duke sighed, he never felt nervous like this before. He looked at the crimson eyes while trying to maintain his composure. “I didn’t know you were a princess when I met you back there. Why would a princess lead the Rashta army despite the fact that you have your brothers?”

A cold smirk appeared on the princess’s face. “Do you want to know the real deal with my family? It would probably take us the whole day for me to finish.”

Xavier didn’t push onto it any further. We would probably ask his men to gather information about this princess.

“So, are we going to continue this marriage or not, your grace?” Her words were too cold. Xavier could actually feel the coldness his servants and subjects were telling him because he, himself was also described as the cold and intimidating duke. How could he see himself in front of him just by looking at the princess?

“We will have the marriage. There’s no way out for you even if you decline it.”

“I didn’t say I would. I’m just being considerate here. Your Grace, I could support you in any way you want me to but can you let me set conditions for this marriage?”

The duke’s eyebrow furrowed. “What is she thinking now?” He couldn’t help but be wary but he nodded his head to agree about the princess’ proposal.

She leaned forward subtly telling her interest on this topic. “One, do permit me to handle my own free time and I would do my duties as the duchess. Two, let me train with the Imperial knights, I promise not to cause any trouble nor plan to form a coup. Three, don’t expect me to be affectionate with you unless it’s necessary to show the public that we have a good relationship.”

Xavier went silent for a while. He took the tea that had previously been served by the butler and took a sip from it. He crossed his legs and leaned his back to the chair. “I’m fine with the first and third condition but why would you like to train with the knights? It’s not part of a duty of a duchess.”

The princess sighed and calmed herself down. “Would you believe me if I told you that my body would not take it if I don’t experience fatigue?”

The Duke narrowed his eyes. He was thinking if the princess was just making an excuse but her eyes were not even avoiding him.

“If you’re hesitant, then let me know if you change your mind once you’ve asked your men to unveil my secret. I’m all yours now, your Grace. If you have nothing to tell anymore, may I retire now? I want to take a rest.”

“Of course, you may do so. You must be tired from the long journey coming here.”

The princess gave him a polite greeting and headed out after saying her thanks.

“Why do I feel shaken by her? Those eyes…they’re still the same back then.” The duke was left with so many questions in his head.

Just as expected, Xavier sent his men to investigate the royal family of the Rashta nation. While waiting for news, he kept his eyes on the princess who was actually behaving.

The princess had her tour around the mansion and was taught everything about the Ardent duchy. It was her third day in the mansion when the maids attending her noticed something wrong with the princess. She didn’t eat her breakfast and lunch. She locked herself in her chamber. This made the servants uneasy because for the past days, the future duchess was not showing any signs of sickness or problem in adjusting. Rather, she seems peculiar because she would often do things on her own as if she was forgetting that there are servants whose job is to attend to her.

“What? Why is she doing that?” The duke received the news.

“That’s the problem, my Lord. We are about to forcefully open the door but we just want to have your permission in case.”

A deep sigh was the only thing Xavier could do while massaging his temple. “I’ll go and talk to her.”

Xavier personally went to the princess’ chamber, knocked on his door, and asked permission to enter but there was no response at all.

“Was she responding before?”

The servants shake their heads.

Afraid that something bad happened to the princess, the duke clicked his tongue and decided to open the door. “Get me the key.” The butler handed the chamber’s key.

As he twisted the lock and the doorknob,  he gently pushed the door to open it. His eyes immediately dropped on the delicate body lying around the floor with a hint of blood on the carpet. The duke’s eyes widened. “Princess!” He shouted as he ran towards the unconscious body of the princess. He held her in his arms and tapped her pale and cold cheeks.

“Princess Ranreinee! Can you hear me?” There was no movement at all from the fragile body. He carried her to the bed and was even shocked to see some bruises on her arms and bleeding in her nose.

The family doctor of the Ardent family arrived and checked up on the princess. The duke went back to his office and decided to wait until the princess’ examination was done. Meanwhile, his trusted aid, Jarvis came in with the report about the princess.

“My Lord, I’ve come to report about the background of Princess Ranreinee Regulus.”

“Make it brief but informative.”

Jarvis gave him a brief report which made the duke clenched his hand in anger. After the aid gave him the information, the doctor of the Ardent family came in to send his report as well about the princess’s condition.

“Your Grace, the princess is now resting. The bruises in her arms were recent and I believe her nose bleeding was due to her body’s adjustment. She came from the south region where the climate is cold almost all throughout the year and suddenly living here in the capital with humid weather, her body is quite shocked.”

The duke nodded his head but what bothers him the most was the bruises on the princess’s arms. “Where do the bruises come from?”

The doctor lowered his head. “I apologize, your grace but I believe it was self-inflicted.”

Xavier’s eyes became sharp. “Inflicted? You mean she did that to herself?”

Jarvis and the doctor shared a stare. The doctor nodded. “We could ask the princess once she’s awake. For now, she needs time to rest and I told the maids to give her light food to eat once she’s awake.”

It was already eight in the evening when Ranreinee woke up. She felt pain in her stomach and in her arms. A smirk arched up in her face. Then, one of the maids entered her room to check on her, she was surprised to see the princess awake but immediately attended to her.

“Princess, how are you feeling? Let me get the doctor to check up on you.”

She didn’t have the chance to answer because the maid ran outside to inform the others that the princess was already awake.

A few seconds later, the butler, the maid who previously ran and the doctor came in. The duke was just behind them as well.

When Ranreinee noticed the duke, she tried to get up to greet him but Xavier immediately stopped him by grabbing her hand.

“Stay in your bed. What happened princess?”

Her crimson eyes stared at the famous cold duke of the empire. “That’s why I told you to let me train with the knights. My body won’t be able to take it if you won’t let me.”

All of them looked at the princess with curiosity.

“Did I get a nosebleed?”

The duke nodded his head.

“Ahh… so I did. ” She looked in her arms where she could feel subtle pain. “Don’t worry about this one, I did it myself. If I don’t, I’ll be in worse condition. Sorry for also not eating, I need the pain.”

This time the duke sent others out, leaving the princess and him alone.

“Why would you need to hurt yourself?”

The princess looked at the duke, still with her cold crimson eyes. “Because you wouldn’t let me train with the knights. You might have already heard about my family background. Aren’t you, Your grace?”

“So what if I did? What’s the deal with you training with the knights and your self-inflicting pain?”

“Because my body is so used in receiving pain, the moment I won’t have it, I’ll be losing my mind. Training with the knights keeps my body busy, thus, I won’t need to seek pain.”

The duke didn’t say anything. He was just looking at the princess with no hint of emotion.

“If I would let you train with the knights, you won’t do this again?”

The princess nodded her head. The night ended with them having a good agreement. Ranreinee ate her meal and retired to sleep afterward.

The next day, Ranreinee wakes up early because the duke told her that he would personally escort her to the knight’s training ground.

She’s not smiling but her overall mood was really good. When she met the duke, Xavier was quite surprised seeing the princess wearing a training outfit that’s similar to the knights.

“Is that your training uniform in Rashta?”

“It is, your grace.”

Together with Jarvis, they went to the knight’s training ground. When the knights noticed the duke, all of them gave their salute.

“Greetings to the Duke of Ardent and the Princess of Rashta.”

A smirk landed on the princess’ face. Her hand immediately grabbed the sword that was hanging on Jarvis’ waist which made the latter surprised. She swung it like it was just a toy and pointed it to the soldiers who were bowing down at them.

“Don’t you have your knight’s reputation? Never bow down to a person who didn’t even gain your respect. Stand up and spar with me.”

The knights were frozen. They won’t dare to hurt the princess, moreover, the future duchess.

The captain of the knights looked at the duke to seek an answer and Xavier nodded his head. Though he was hesitant, the captain drew his sword against the princess.

“I am Lance Argus, captain of the imperial knights.”

“Don’t hold back, please, Captain.” The princess’ eyes were full of life. Standing with a sword in her hand,  she looks elegantly stunning in the duke’s eyes. How could a princess act like this but her charm was never diminished.

Ranreinee felt blood rushing inside her body because of the excitement. She was the first one to attack and her movements were flawless like water, she was dancing in the air. The captain was taken aback because every time he would defend himself from the princess’ attacks, he felt his sword becoming heavier each time as if he was not sparring with a woman.

When the princess struck his sword again, she broke the captain’s defense making his sword flew and dropped on the ground.

“Next!”

Everyone was still frozen seeing the captain of the knight easily defeated by the princess. Ranreinee tilted her head.

“Are these our imperial knights? Your grace, I think we need to give them more training.” A smirk arched up on her lips which made the knights shiver in fear,  the same feeling they get from the duke.

Xavier was equally astonished but seeing the confidence of his future duchess, he chuckled. Everyone heard it. That cold Duke chuckled. All of them who clearly heard it dropped their jaws. It was the first time they heard him laugh.

“What? I’m serious. I could slaughter them all if you weren’t the commander back then if they’re this weak.”

The duke nodded his head. He could see the reality just in front of him. “Then, would it please you if I would leave their training in your hands? This is a win-win offer. Our knights will get stronger and you’ll have that second condition fulfilled at the same time.”

A stunningly bright and lively smile painted on the princess’ face. The wind blew and the ruffling sounds of leaves of the trees and plants covered the whole field. Everyone was at a loss for words seeing the indifferent princess smile with pure happiness. Even Xavier felt his heart skip a beat. “Thank you, Your grace.” She said while captivating the entirety of the imperial knights with their commander and his close aid.

Without any second thoughts, all knights vowed their service and loyalty to the future duchess from this day until their last breath.

The days passed by as the preparation of the duke and the princess’ wedding is getting near. It will not be too extravagant because only the Emperor who made this marriage possible was invited and some other close nobles to the Ardent house.

Xavier was surprised to see their knights full of passion while training with the princess. Ranreinee was also studying everything that she needed to know about the duchy and doing very well.

Two days before the wedding, Ran was awakened in the middle of the knight when he felt an ominous feeling within the cold mansion. He knew that the knights were doing their best but something seems off. She covered herself with warmer clothes and took her sword, the one she kept all along with her when she arrived in Ardent duchy. The princess walked slowly to the cold and dark hallway of the mansion until she heard faint footsteps. She hid well, not making any sounds.

With her keen senses, she figured out that someone sneaked in and invaded the mansion.

Who is the target? The Duke?”

When Ranreinee confirmed that the assassin was targeting his husband-to-be because the culprit was standing in front of the duke’s chamber, she didn’t hesitate to attack. Unsheathing her sword,  she swiftly and cleanly stabbed it to the assassin’s abdomen who looked really suspicious.

She felt a subtle pain in her whole body after seeing herself filled with the splatter of blood from the assassin. The door of the duke’s chamber suddenly opened up revealing the face of the handsome young duke. The princess shifted her gaze. Her crimson red eyes complement the blood staining her white nightgown.

“Your Grace, you’re safe now from the assassin.”

“What the?!” Xavier was too shocked to process what happened because the next thing he saw was Ranreinee’s unconscious body falling to the floor. Luckily he caught him on time but what made him scream to seek help alerting the whole mansion, was seeing the princess he slowly got fond of bathing in her own blood coming from the left side of her abdomen.

“Ran!!!!!” Xavier screamed.

The whole mansion felt cold upon hearing the Duke’s painful scream. They immediately ran to his chamber only to find the duke carrying the bloody body of Ranreinee in his arms.

“Your Grace.” Rolan immediately attended with some maid trying to press a piece of cloth to the princess’ abdomen to stop the bleeding.

“Get the doctor, hurry!” The water from his eyes was about to break loose but he was holding it in.

Jarvis who saw the situation was in a rage. He immediately sent the knights to tighten the security and look for anything suspicious.

The whole mansion was in chaos and panic because the princess was badly wounded. No one knows what happened. Xavier was losing his cool and he looks like he was about to slaughter a thousand men just to appease his anger.

An operation was needed to be done to save the princess. After three days, the princess was still unconscious and obviously, the wedding was moved. The whole incident was not really disclosed because they didn’t want to create unnecessary unrest unless they knew what really happened that night.

On the fifth day, around three in the morning, Ranreinee woke up and felt her body aching. “So, did I lose myself again? I thought I was already fine after moving out of that place.” She sighed.

The princess wandered in the hallway while covering herself with a thicker piece of clothes and went to the kitchen to look for something to eat. She noticed some leftover soup and bread so she decided to have her way in the kitchen. Ran, though considered as a princess, knew how to cook because it was part of her life in Rashta, being the unfavored princess, she needed to survive on her own. Even the maids were not treating her well by giving her rotten foods or not giving him anything at all so she would constantly hunt in the forest of Rashta to look for food.

While making her own meal, she even decided to cook breakfast for everyone. She was used cooking in large servings because he also cooked for the Rashta army when she led them to war as the sacrificial blood of the royal family.

Enjoying her time in the kitchen while eating, she didn’t notice that the maids were already up to start their day and prepare for breakfast. However, they were surprised when they saw lights coming from the kitchen and smelled a delicious scent. The servants rushed inside the kitchen to see whoever was trespassing, only to find the future duchess cooking on her own with ingredients laid out on the table.

“Princess!” they all gasped in surprise.

“Oww, I’m sorry for using the kitchen without permission. I also ate the leftover food, hope you don’t mind.” Ran gently smiled at them.

“No, of course not, princess. Let us do it for you.” The servants immediately helped the princess prepare the food.

“It’s fine. I like cooking anyway. Let me help you all. I need to work on my body.”

The servants nodded their heads as they were informed by the butler to never interfere with the princess’ business whenever she does things on her own because of her body condition. They were strictly instructed to assist her instead. All of them were helping the princess to cook breakfast, not only for the duke but also for the servants with her leading them. They were surprised how good the princess was at cooking and they felt her warmth as she considered the welfare of the servants as well. The princess would casually ask some questions to them to start a conversation. The kitchen was actually filled with laughter when they started to talk about how cold the duke was, or some gossip about the romance between some maids and knights in the mansion. It was a very pleasant morning.

When it’s time for breakfast, the maid helped the princess to wash up and dress. The table was set with foods personally cooked by the princess. The duke arrived to share a meal with her. Xavier looked relieved seeing the princess.

“How are you feeling?” he coldly asked.

“I’m great. I hope you enjoy breakfast, your grace.”

Xavier raised his eyebrows as he took a bite on the food that was served to him. He was quite surprised because of the unfamiliar yet delicious taste that filled his palate.

“The princess cooked breakfast on her own today, my lord.” the butler, Rolan said.

“You did?” his eyes landed on that beautiful pale face of the princess.

She smiled and nodded her head. Xavier could feel his heart skip a beat again. He clears his throat to hide his reaction. “It tastes good.”

“Glad you like it, your grace.” The whole dining hall was filled with warmth and a comfortable feeling. It was new and refreshing.

After their meal, the two were on the balcony sharing tea.

“Won’t you tell me what happened back then?” Suddenly, Xavier asked a question.

“I will, your grace, but today. Can we discuss it once we finish the wedding? It has been delayed because of me and I know it might cause us trouble in the future. However, rest assured I will tell it all to you.”

Xavier nodded his head. “As long as you’re fine. We will proceed with the wedding whenever you are ready.”

“I’m always ready, your grace. I hope to support you in exchange for your good treatment. I offer my loyalty and service to you.” Ran gracefully stood up and bowed her head. The duke was startled. He wanted to halt the princess but she continued her statement.

“After the nightmare of going to war alone as a sacrifice of my family, I never thought that I would be able to live comfortably here. I thank the emperor for choosing me as a tribute and was offered to your grace as your companion. I, Ranreinee Regulus, the unfavored princess of Rashta nation and commander of Rashta army pledge my loyalty to serve and protect the name of the duke, Xavier Ardent until my last breath.”

It was an oath of a knight. This princess never failed to amaze him. Xavier walked up to her and kneeled to help the princess rise. When Ran was equally standing in front of the duke, it was Xavier’s turn to kneel in front of her while holding her hand.

“I’m honored to have your oath. I, Xavier Ardent give my word to protect and be loyal to you as well as my duchess. I promise to give you whatever you need and to make you feel comfortable in this unfamiliar place. I’m glad to have you as my partner in life.”

Xavier kissed the princess’ hand as a sign of respect and devotion to his future duchess. He looked up to see Ran’s reaction. She was crying. The duke panicked and hugged the princess to calm her down. “Don’t cry please.”

“No, I’m just happy. Seems my belief of having a rainbow after the rain was true. Thank you, Xavier.”

Hearing his name coming from the princess melted his heart and thus, his icy cold heart that was long before frozen finally found its warmth with the crimson-eyed princess whom he probably already fell in love with at first sight when they first met in that stormy and bloody war back in Rashta. He was long before captivated by those eyes and beauty behind those steel armor. He never knew that after spending so much time on the battlefield, he would find his sanctuary from the ruined lands of hopelessness.

“Kyaaaaa!” A scream was heard in the mansion while the princess and the duke were having a sweet time together.

Xavier ran out and asked the knights what happened.

“My lord, there were some ruffians who trespassed within the manor.” the knight informed him.

The young duke was just about to order the knights but he immediately saw the princess run out while holding her sword.

“Princess!” he called but the lady went on and continued to walk out of the mansion.

In the garden beyond outside the mansion, the sound of the clashing swords of the knight could be heard. Without hesitation, the former commander of Rashta army, Princess Ranreinee, rushed to the place where he could hear grunts and swords clashing sounds.

Her eyes widened upon seeing the Ardent knights beaten up by the ruffins who reportedly trespassed.

“What’s the meaning of this?”

Four men wearing coats turned around when they heard the princess’s voice.

The duke came just in time but he got confused with the scene in front of him. The unidentified four men were on their knees, bowing their heads to the princess.

“We are here to take you back and serve under the commander’s lead.”

“You rascals!  Is this how a knight should behave?” The princess for the first time shouted. Everyone in the manor was bewildered.

“Commander, forgive us. We are just here to protect you.”

Ran couldn’t help but sigh.

“What’s happening here, princess.”

“Ahh, your grace, I apologize for the damage my men have caused. They are from the Rashta army,  my subordinates, I mean, former.”

“Commander! You are still our commander. The Rashta army refused to follow the lead of those incompetent princes.” A man with raven hair spoke.

“Devon, are you aware of the punishment if you insulted the royal family of Rashta?”

“I apologize, my princess. I should be punished accordingly.”

The princess sighed again. “If the generals are here, then, who is in charge of the army?”

No one answered.

“Speak or I’ll cut your tongue.”

The people in the manor never heard the future duchess speak so cold and scary like that.

“Er.. The army was… uhmm, was about to do a mutiny.”

“What?!”

The knights from the Rashta army were invited to go to the mansion to talk further about the matter back in the princess Ranreinee’s homeland.

They told her that her brothers were seen as incompetent by the army and they didn’t want to follow any one of them. They wanted the princess to lead them again and some of the commoners were also saying that princess Ranreinee should be the crown princess of the nation because of your contribution. There were some nobles who were also against sending her as the tribute to the empire.

The duke was just listening to them but he was quite worried about the matter of bringing the princess back home to Rashta when the two of them just started to get along well.

“Go back to Rashta and suppress the incoming mutiny. You guys swear to be of service to Rashta. Do not let your personal feelings break your oath. I am no longer part of the royal family of Rashta. I’ll be a future duchess here in the empire. I apologize but my role as your commander was already over.”

 

 

The four men looked devastated, but one of them,  the oldest, spoke. “Then, how about the matter about your ghost?”

“Cromwel, that’s enough!”

“No, my lady, I mean commander. We will not leave not until we ensure that your ghost won’t hurt you in any way.”

Ran gritted her teeth. This is an off topic for her.

“What ghost?” The duke suddenly asked.

The princess was caught off guard. He didn’t want the duke to know about this.

“Your grace.. This is..”

“Princess, you’ll be the future duchess so I need to know about this especially if it would enlighten me about the incident that happened a few days ago.”

The knights from Rashta looked worried. “Duke Ardent, may I ask what happened to the commander?”

Ran was hesitant to say something about the incident because she was not also convinced about what happened. Nevertheless, Xavier told the Rashta knights what happened and they were beyond shocked and worried for the princess whom they served for so long.

After hearing what happened, the four Rashta knights kneeled to the princess. “Please,  we beg you commander, let us stay by your side and serve you.”

“You can’t abandon Rashta just because you like to.” Ran scolded them.

“The Rashta abandoned us already, my lady. The crown prince relieved us from our posts because we are still loyal to you. Many of our men were also relieved and they started to recruit new knights. We wished to serve you from now on, princess Ranreinee.”

“What?! My brother did that?” Ran gritted her teeth then he looked at Xavier as if she was asking permission to take his generals.

The duke gave her a nod. He’ll also be at peace if Ran would have someone she trusts by her side.

The night was long but Xavier discovered another interesting fact about the future duchess of his duchy. Princess Ranreinee was loved by her people even though she looked cold on the outside, if you get to know her, she’s really warm.

 

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