Episode 172. The Brightest Candle (3)

Just as flower buds bloom, it is natural for a girl to grow up and become a woman. However, Princess Ophelia’s transformation went beyond expectations.

Her round eyes, previously elegant but unable to conceal her girlish curiosity, were now calm and deep, while her cute nose was now a shapely feature of her more mature appearance. Her slender jawline was also delicate, with no signs of the previous baby fat that had given her an endearing look.

Within these past few months, the young adult had fully reached adulthood.

“Ah…”

The princess turned her head upon hearing his unsuppressed exclamation.

“It’s been a while.”

Her voice was also different from before, when it was lovely like that of a bird singing, and the change felt particularly impactful. If her old voice induced pleasant smiles, her new voice was dizzying and captivating.

“Are you really the princess?”

When Seon-Hyeok blurted out in shock, the princess narrowed her eyes and replied.

“Is there a woman besides me you were waiting for?”

Despite knowing that she was joking, his heart sank, as though he had committed a grave sin.

Hey, you stupid heart. Give it a rest.

He cursed his mindlessly jumping heart. He had to resist her magical appeal somehow.

Indeed, the princess’ beauty and voice were unlike anything he had previously experienced.

“How could I?”

His beating heart finally started to calm down a little as he desperately tried to focus.

“That’s a relief. I was afraid I would be the only one with feelings of longing.”

But even this was short-lived. Seon-Hyeok’s heart began to rapidly beat once again from this single comment.

“I missed you.”

He unknowingly clutched his chest as he saw the finely curved mouth, half-moon-like eyes, and dazzling smile.

In that brief time apart, the princess had grown to be a remarkable beauty.

“So, you only see your fiancé, and your father now might as well be a ghost.”

His heart might have stopped if King Theodore had not interjected. Her appearance was simply too stunning.

“How could I possibly feel that way, Your Majesty?”

“Tsk. How formal.”

It was clear the king wanted his daughter to show him even half the affection she showed her fiancé.

“Earl Drachen. I am sure you have much to say, but there is something she and I must talk about. Would you excuse us for a moment?”

“I will do as you wish.”

Seon-Hyeok unhesitatingly removed himself from the scene. If he stayed any longer, he feared he might become even more spellbound by the princess.

Seon-Hyeok let out a long breath as he returned to his accommodations.

“Whew.”

He already knew that those of House Adenstein fully awakened as they came of age, but the change in the royal princess was surprising nonetheless.

It was incredible how much a person could change in such a short period of time.

But Seon-Hyeok knew.

He knew that the princess’ transformation was not a blessing. This new beauty was an inherent quality, one that normally would reveal itself naturally over time.

Unfortunately, the princess was not blessed with this typical passage of time.

An immature body and mind were fatal weaknesses to royals carrying expectations to lead a kingdom, and the Adenstein predecessors had overcome these shortcomings by accelerating their growth. Through their awakening, their unprepared minds and bodies were instantly brought to the peak of their primes.

[It is possible that the divine punishment given them has become heavier due to their acts of defying providence.]

Geheimnis mocked their folly, suggesting that their unnatural growth could be one of the reasons behind their shortened lifespans.

However, unlike what the fairy dragon thought, Seon-Hyeok believed that the royals of House Adenstein were fully aware of such side effects.

From his perspective, these individuals were natural born leaders and royal monarchs. As such, they would have willingly offered a portion of their lives as compensation.

“You said so yourself. There are matters more important than one’s life.”

Geheimnis could not refute his rebuttal.

[Your destiny is quite ironic.]

This time, Seon-Hyeok shut his mouth.

The members of House Adenstein had all declined to extend their lives in order to rule their kingdom, and that same blood flowed through his fiancée. It was more likely than not that she would make the same decision as her blood relatives.

***

“The princess said she would be waiting where she always has.”

As the maid suggested, the princess was waiting for him in the inner garden where she usually enjoyed her tea with him.

Whether or not she noticed his arrival, she sat there with her eyes closed, savoring the warm rays of the sun.

The princess’ hair, sparkling in the bright sunlight, was as mysterious as golden threads, and her skin, shielded from the sunlight for a long time, seemed almost transparent. The eyelashes neatly done at the ends of her fine eyes were beautiful as well.

The princess, with her eyes closed under the sun, looked as stunning as a flattering picture.

Hum.

Every now and then, she would let out a hum as captivating as a siren’s song.

And instead of immediately greeting the princess, Seon-Hyeok found himself listening to her song for a long time.

If the princess had not opened her eyes to the sound of a maid’s footsteps, he could have stayed there forever.

“You’re here.”

The princess finally noticed Seon-Hyeok when she opened her eyes and extended her greetings.

“You looked so happy that I did not want to disturb you.”

The princess looked directly at him as he offered an honest response.

“No matter how warm the afternoon sun is, no matter how fresh the vivid scent of the grass is, do you think it would feel better than a reunion with someone I missed?”

Seon-Hyeok was made speechless at the unexpected, direct expression of her feelings. When he stammered, the princess smiled like a flower.

“You’re the same as always.”

After looking at him for a while, the princess spoke in a happy voice.

“And that is why my heart is so happy.”

The princess looked around for a moment with her clear eyes. It was transparent like King Theodore’s gaze when he looked into others.

“It’s a relief. Everything else has changed in this world, but you remain the same.”

Seon-Hyeok could not guess the reason behind the deep relief contained in the princess’ voice. But despite this, he could not inquire as to why. Sensing a glimmer of sadness in her voice, he found himself silently listening to what she said.

“I was very curious. I wondered whether you would keep your promise to the royal family, and how the kingdom would have changed.”

However, the melancholy in her voice quickly faded.

“His Majesty briefly told me about what transpired, but I wanted to hear it from you directly.”

With a bright smile, she asked him about preceding events.

“Would you tell me what happened in the meantime?”

Though she now looked mature in her appearance, her current attitude was no different from that of the young girl begging him to tell stories of his endeavors in the past.

“After leaving the capital, I immediately…”

Seon-Hyeok willingly accepted the princess’ request and detailed the events that transpired.

“Oh? So that’s what happened.”

He was naturally required to hide some facts and edit others in case of any listeners, but as the princess had already been briefed on the general situation from King Theodore, she knowingly reacted as he spoke.

Seon-Hyeok quickly and enthusiastically finished his story as the princess happily clapped her hands and exclaimed.

“How admirable.”

He felt awkward when he saw the princess smile mildly as she looked at him. He felt like a child boasting immaturely, and somehow, the princess almost felt like his senior.

Clearly, the princess’ awakening had not been limited to physical growth.

“And how have you been?”

“I was busy meditating to prepare my mind and body before I came of age.”

Ophelia laughed as she spoke about her experiences, and indeed, her days had been filled with meditation and were nothing special. But despite this, Seon-Hyeok paid close attention as though she was regaling him with riveting stories.

And with this, Seon-Hyeok and Ophelia filled the gaps that had formed between them in their separation.

“Yes. I also heard the whole story from His Majesty.”

As they finished remedying these gaps, the princess first broached the awkward topic he could not bring up himself.

“I would first like to apologize.”

She was sincerely apologizing for the burden he would bear for her shortened lifespan.

“And even beyond this, there are many other reasons for me to be sorry. I am destined to be the Queen of Adenburg before I am your partner, and it is possible you will have the misfortune of having a lacking companion.”

Well, he had been prepared for this from the beginning. He knew that marrying the heir to the throne would naturally be different from any ordinary relationship.

“And thus, I will make this promise to you. I will be as true and faithful to you as possible.”

Seon-Hyeok’s expression grew strange as he continued to listen to the princes. He felt as though he had heard something like this somewhere before.

“If you are okay with that, would you accept me?”

It was not just a feeling. He actually had heard something along these lines elsewhere.

“Will you spend the rest of your life with me?”

The princess was proposing to him.

Seon-Hyeok was at a loss for words, filled with indescribable feelings of bewilderment and surprise.

However, Ophelia showed no signs of letting this question go unanswered as she waited for his response.

“Aren’t our futures already promised to each other?”

It sounded like a ridiculous response, even for him, but given that the traditional gender roles for proposals had been flipped, there was nothing else for him to do.

***

The princess’ coming-of-age ceremony began around a month after she emerged from her seclusion.

Despite the chaotic situation across the continent, numerous emissaries from various kingdoms visited Adenburg to celebrate the adulthood of its next ruler.

“I, Theodore Tiberius Ro Adenstein, leave all matters to the royal family’s one and eldest daughter, Ophelia Laurel Ro Adenstein, and will watch to ensure that she possesses the right qualifications to lead the Adenburg Kingdom as its queen. So long as she avoids any unretractable mistakes during this period, the throne of Adenburg will become hers.”

At this celebration, King Theodore announced his intention to confirm the princess’ qualifications and his subsequent decision to abdicate.

Considering she was of royal birth and had been in charge of the kingdom’s various matters since her childhood, the king’s words were essentially an official declaration of her succession to the throne.

It was somewhat abrupt, but the ability Ophelia showed up to this point and the shining aura characteristic of House Adenstein she demonstrated around this time ensured that the kingdom’s nobles could not oppose the king’s decision.

In any case, successions within the Adenstein royal family traditionally happened at a young age, and as a result, few found this turn of events to be strange.

There were a few expressing their concerns, but these individuals soon shut their mouths upon learning of the imminent marriage between the famed hero, Drachen, and the next queen.

Seon-Hyeok lifted the princess’ white veil in front of these countless nobles and commoners.

Contrary to her previous bold attitude in proposing to him, Ophelia, impeccably dressed up under her veil, shyly looked down towards the ground.

The youthful appearance from when he first met her was nowhere to be seen, and he had a new impression of her as a mature young woman.

At one time, he never imagined he would marry such a child.

“I am prepared, so do not hesitate.”

Misunderstanding the situation, the princess encouraged him as he hesitated. She seemed unaware of her own trembling voice.

Seon-Hyeok smiled as he held the princess’ flushed cheeks. With that, he kissed her gently on the forehead.

“I hereby declare that the marriage between the eldest daughter of House Adenstein, Ophelia Laurel Ro Adenstein, and Seon-Hyeok Rheinperle Kim Drachen has been fulfilled!”

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