The sunlight coming through the window settled on Rune’s eyes. He squinted, frowning slightly as he woke up. No, he attempted to wake up. If he hadn’t sensed a familiar presence beside him.
He turned his head and saw the person lying next to him.
His trembling hand cautiously moved towards her face. A gentle warmth was conveyed through the slightly touching fingertips. Only then did Rune let out a sigh of relief.
Ah, it’s real. It’s really her.
The moment certainty washed over him, tears welled up in his eyes. He moved his hand, which had barely touched her, to cup LRa’s cheek, caressing it with his thumb.
Perhaps she felt his touch, Ria’s eyes slowly fluttered open. In her clearer vision, she saw Rune, shedding tears of joy.
“Why are you crying, hmm?”
Despite her question, he just silently embraced her. Ria, not understanding the situation, blinked her eyes and gently brushed her hand down his back. Then, she felt his grip on her tighten.
It took a while for the sobbing to subside. Feeling the damp shoulders, Ria lifted her head, and in her gaze, there were unfamiliar things. It wasn’t the hotel where they had been; it was a completely unfamiliar space.
“Where are we?”
Once again, Rune couldn’t answer her question. His relief at her being alive faded away as his heart sank. What should he say? What should he…
The blue irises beneath his lowered head shook aimlessly. But soon, as if he had made up his mind, he closed his eyes tightly and opened them again, raised his head and met her gaze.
As he continued speaking, Ria’s face became increasingly colored with shock. Rune didn’t want to see her making that expression, so he felt uneasy. He grabbed Ria’s hand, attempting to comfort her.
“This is a different world, and you originally belong here….”
“I had an accident in Korea and was on the verge of death…?”
Then, she asked Rune once again for the conclusion. Memories of that dreadful situation resurfaced in Rune’s mind. He nodded slightly, his lips pressed tightly together.
Seeing his reaction, Ria closed her eyes tightly.
It’s unbelievable. How… how could this make sense?
She found it difficult to accept the idea of coming to another world just like that! How many people would believe that? Opening her closed eyes, Ria slowly got off the bed to confirm it herself. It seemed impossible to accept without seeing it with her own eyes.
But she couldn’t take that small step.
Shock filled her chestnut eyes, quivering with anxiety. Rune, who had quickly grabbed her as she slumped to the floor, saved her from falling.
“Are you okay?”
He saw the panic in her eyes. His heart, which seemed to have no more room for anxiety, pounded heavily on his chest.
“Yeah, why, why, what’s wrong?”
“I… I can’t feel my legs.”
The words hit Rune’s ears like thunder. Instantly, the words from the diary flashed through his mind.
[It is said that if the other person’s condition is severe, their body may become significantly weakened.]
Ha. Only now did Rune understand the meaning of those words. His hands were trembling. But seeing Ria, more anxious and frightened than he was, he bit down on the inside of his mouth to regain his composure and immediately called for the court physician. He then lifted Ria, propped her up on his thighs, and comforted her.
Shortly after, the court physician and maidservants entered. Ria, seeing the unfamiliar attire of the physician and the maids who followed, felt fear and clung tightly to Rune.
Rune held her even tighter and comforted her. Despite his own anxiety, Rune’s concern for Ria grew, he felt a satisfying sense of warmth and the gesture of her relying on him and nestling into his arms was incredibly endearing and lovely.
While the physician was examining Ria’s condition, he cocked his head in puzzlement. Eventually, he withdrew his hands and spoke.
“Miss, your overall balance is severely disturbed. Most notably, your legs lack strength. You’ll find it difficult to walk on your own for a while. Also, if you strain yourself even a little or experience any shock, your body might react sensitively. Be very, very careful.”
“Is there no way to fix the legs?”
“Fortunately, there is a way. I’ll prepare medicine to balance your overall body, a remedy for your legs, and another for your general health. Please don’t neglect them and take them three times a day after meals. Be sure to take good care of yourself. Also, it would be beneficial if you did gentle exercises or received massages every day to stimulate your body.”
“It’s not that your legs hurt; it’s just that you can’t feel any strength in them. If you follow what I said and continue to do so, you should be able to start walking within three months. Since there are no problems with your bones or ligaments.”
Rune, who had nodded, gestured for the physician and maids to leave. Once they were alone again, Ria, who had clung to his clothes, spoke up.
“Rune, what should I do…”
“It’s okay. I’m here with you. I’ll help you get better. I’ll always be by your side.”
Rune whispered as he lightly pressed his lips to Ria’s forehead as she stared at him with tears streaming down her face. He overlapped his hand with the one that held the hem of her dress and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
Ria, who had been shedding tears for a while in confusion and shock over her immobile legs, finally fell asleep in Rune’s gentle caresses.
Holding her tightly as she slept, Rune lay down on the bed with her. He covered her with the blanket and gently patted her back. After a while, he carefully wiped away the dried tear stains on her face with his thumb and pressed his lips to her forehead.
“I’ll protect you. Don’t worry.”
The once-painful heart, torn apart by the sight of her crying, now left only traces of tremors. It seemed to rhythmically respond to her calm breathing.
Inside him, his true self writhed. Satisfaction that had been building alongside his worries rapidly expanded, transforming into intense joy.
‘The aching body can be healed. And Ria will be with me for the rest of her life.’
Since she has no connection with anyone else here, she would only look at him and rely on him. The ugly thought pleased him, even though he later recognized it as a trashy notion. It didn’t matter. He was originally this kind of person.
Rune’s eyes sparkled as he wrapped his arms tighter around the slender body.
It was one of the true aspects of himself that he always hid from Ria.
* * *
The efficient aide immediately reported the new information to his master.
“There’s a woman in the Duke of Astina’s bedroom.”
“The one we talked about before?”
“She has black hair and brown eyes, similar in appearance of the former Duchess. Considering she doesn’t belong here, it’s likely her.”
“So it seems she was connected to the former Duchess after all.”
“And there was an unusual incident.”
“While I’m not exactly sure if the woman is unwell, the family’s chief physician examined her condition.”
Upon hearing his aide’s report, the man’s well-groomed eyebrows twitched slightly.
The Duke of Astina he knew wouldn’t bat an eye even if a woman were ill. That wasn’t exclusive to just women but applied to anyone. Yet the Duke had summoned the family’s chief physician for this woman?
In his reddened eyes, a trace of curiosity flickered.
“I need to go see for myself.”
“What? Are you going to see Duke Astina?”
“But he probably won’t receive you.”
“Well, I’ve entered without his permission a few times before. I can do it again this time if necessary.”
Ah, yes… The aide lost words in the face of his master’s confident statement that he would intrude boldly.