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22 Surely This Time

 "DO you not want to sleep in the same room as me?" Tilly asked Kiho. "If you're not comfortable, I can ask the maids to find me another room to use."

"No, I want to stay with you here," Kiho said, his cheeks turning pink. "It's me who's worried that you might not be comfortable with this."

"Oh," she said, then she sat on the bed. The mattress wasn't as soft as what she had back at home but it was comfortable enough. "I'm fine with this. We haven't seen each other for a few days so I'm glad that the emperor arranged this room for us."

He looked at her as if he was trying to read her mind. But in the end, it seemed like he gave up. "You're always calm and composed. I like that about you."

"It's because my mental age is old," she said playfully. "You're technically allowed to call me "grandmother," you know."

"No, you're not my grandma," he said straightforwardly. "You're my baby."

She instantly regretted bragging about her ��mental age." Because right now, she wanted to squeal like a teenager (that she was in this world). Kiho could really make her feel things that she didn't feel in the past.

[Wait, I don't really remember my moments with Kiho and Winter.]

The memories that clung to her ever since she woke up in that world again were the memories of her sins. How did she treat her husband and son before she fell into madness because of her greed for power?

[And I can't really remember why I was so thirsty for power back then.]

If her doubts about Princess Nia were correct, could it be possible that she was controlled by someone else in the past?

[I was young and gullible then so it was highly possible."

"Tilly?" Kiho asked in a worried tone. "Are you okay?"

"Kiho, can I ask you stuff about the royal family?"

"It depends on what you want to know," he said cautiously. "There are things that I can't say even to you."

"I understand that," she said. Then, she crawled to the bed, sat on the mattress with a pillow on her back, then leaned against the headboard. After that, she patted the space next to her. "Come here, baby. Let's talk."

He seemed pleased by that. "Okay, baby."

A few moments later, Kiho was already sitting beside her. There was also a pillow on his back. And they were sharing the blanket.

"Kiho, have you served Her Royal Highness as a guard before?" she asked curiously. "You used to work in the royal palace, didn't you?"

"Yes," he said. "But I worked for His Majesty, not for Her Royal Highness. The knight that was assigned to the princess until last year was Captain Sherwood of the Blue Dragon Knights."

"Huh?" she asked in confusion. In her past life, she didn't care about other people so she couldn't remember who the princess's personal knight was. Gosh, why were the only things clear in her memories were her evil schemes in the past? "Oh, right. This morning, I saw the emperor with Captain Sherwood. Did the princess change her personal knight?"

"I'll tell you because it's an open secret in the palace anyway," he said with a mild hesitation. "His Majesty wasn't too happy to see that Her Royal Highness and Captain Sherwood had developed a close relationship. Before the emperor officially proposed to the princess, he "promoted" Captain Sherwood as his personal knight."

"What happened to Sir Gregory, the emperor's knight ever since he was a crown prince?"

"He retired."

"Did the emperor ask him to retire?"

"I don't know."

[His Majesty definitely did.]

Everyone in the empire knew that their great emperor was crazily in love with Princess Nia.

"So, who is now the princess's knight?" she asked. "I didn't see anyone else with her aside from Catalina."

His forehead knotted in confusion. "Oh, you didn't know? I thought you'd know because according to the emperor, you're good friends with the princess."

She fell silent.

[Why can't I remember the stuff about Princess Nia when we were supposed to be "good friends" in my past life?]

"I apologize," Kiho said. "Just because you're good friends doesn't mean you should know everything about the princess."

She just smiled at him. "It's okay, Kiho."

"The princess's new "knight" is actually one of the Great Mages of the White Tower," the captain said. "She's called Lahara."

She gasped in surprise. "Isn't Lahara the rumored "immortal beauty" who was a strong candidate to be the next Grand Mage?" Her forehead knotted in confusion. "Wait. Are mages even allowed to be a knight?"

"Miss Lahara quit her position in the White Tower," he said. "Apparently, she took her training with the Blue Dragon Knights. Because of her strong ability as a mage, she easily graduated from being a squire. And as soon as Lahara became a full-fledged knight, Emperor Aku appointed her as Princess Nia's new personal knight. It all happened last year."

[Just last year?]

She couldn't remember most of the things that happened in her past life before she married Kiho. Why did it feel like the only memories that remained in her mind were the ones she had after giving birth to Winter?

[There are several gaps in my memory. I remember my childhood. But the things that took place since I met Kiho were blurry.]

She tried hard to remember her 'missing' memories but all she got was a sharp pain in the head.

"Aww..." she groaned while holding her head.

"Tilly, what's wrong?" Kiho asked in a worried tone. "Headache?"

She nodded. "My head suddenly hurts..."

"Wait here," he said. "I'll call a doctor."

"No," she whined. Then, she gently pushed Kiho until he was lying on the bed. After that, she laid beside him and wrapped her arms around his waist. She also used his solid chest as a pillow. "Is this okay, Kiho?"

"Yes," he said right away. "I like this position."

She smiled at his honesty.

[Kiho really smells good. And he's warm. I wonder what was wrong with me in the past to be a b*tch to him?]

"Tilly, may I hold you as well?"

"Yes," she said with a smile. [I really like how Kiho asks for my consent.]

She had said this many times already but despite their estranged relationship in the past, the captain had never been disrespectful to her. He even tried to appeal to His Majesty to exile her instead of giving her a death sentence. Because according to Kiho in the past, no matter what happened, she was still the woman who gave birth to Winter.

[But did I do something good for Kiho to help me in my last moments? But I remember the look of relief on his face when I was about to be beheaded...]

Could she still trust her memories?

Her thoughts were suddenly cut off when Kiho's arms wrapped around her. She liked how she melted into his body when she pulled her closer to him.

"You fell silent," Kiho said, a hint of worry evident in his voice. "What are you thinking, baby?"

She couldn't help but smile when another battalion of butterflies rammed against her tummy once again. The captain was really making her feel giddy when she wasn't supposed to feel that way anymore because of her mental age. "Kiho?"

"Hmm?"

"Do you know what Princess Nia's power is?" she asked cautiously. "I know that the Moonchesters are born with powerful Mana. I've also heard how strong Emperor Aku was in the battlefields. Apparently, His Majesty alone is worth thousands of elite knights."

"That's true," he confirmed. "The emperor can invade a small country on his own if he wanted to."

[No wonder His Majesty ascended the throne when he was only eighteen.]

"How about Her Royal Highness?" she asked as careful as she could. "Even though I'm quite close to the princess, I have no idea about her power. I know that she has strong Mana. But I want to know what exactly her ability is."

He paused for a while before he spoke in a hesitant voice. "Tilly, if you asked that to other people, you could be accused of treason. You sound like you���re looking for Her Royal Highness's weakness."

"I know that," she admitted. "But I wouldn't ask those questions to just anyone. I asked you because I know that you're not going to treat me like a threat to the royal family."

"But may I know why you're interested in the princess's power?"

[Because Princess Nia might turn out to be a threat to our family, baby.]

"For politics," she lied. "The social circle is the ladies' "battlefield," you know?"

"I think His Majesty said that once."

"I'm a duke's daughter so even if I don't want to, I have to form a good relationship with the other ladies," she continued. "House Prescott has always been a part of the Royal Faction so naturally, I've become a part of the princess's faction. I just want to make sure that I chose to take the right side."

"I apologize but I'm not a noble so I fail to see the connection," he said in a confused tone. "How will knowing the princess's power help you decide if you took the right side?"

"Well, a war within the Royal Faction and the Noble Faction might break out anytime," she lied again. "I just want to know if I'd be safe by the princess's side."

She knew that she was speaking gibberish. But she was starting to get sleepy so she couldn't think straight anymore.

"You don't need the princess for that," Kiho said. "I'll always protect you, Tilly."

She smiled at his promise. Then, she looked up at him to find him looking at her with gentle eyes. "It's my turn to protect you, Kiho."

"Hmm?"

"I'm not going to ask anymore," she said. She had to give up because Kiho was a knight who pledged loyalty to the royal family. Of course, that included protecting the Moonchesters's secret. "You can't tell me about the princess's power, right?"

He nodded. "I think it's better if you don't know it. If you know too much about the royal family, they will treat you like a threat."

"I understand."

"I'm sorry, Tilly."

She shook her head. "You don't have to apologize, Kiho. Thank you for worrying about me. Let's just sleep."

"Okay," Kiho said. Then, he leaned down to kiss her on the forehead. "Good night, baby."

She smiled and closed her eyes, then hugged him tight. "Good night, baby."

But as soon as Tilly hid her face against Kiho's chest, she opened her eyes. And even though she couldn't see her reflection, she knew that she had a somber look on her face right now.

[How do I fight Princess Nia if I don't know anything about her?]

***

NIA was gazing down at the garden of moonflowers while she was standing in the balcony of her chamber.

The more moonlight the moonflowers absorbed, the more their effect lasted.

"It seems like Lady Prescott has changed," Nia said. "She doesn't seem to be as gullible as she had been when she was younger."

"Stubborn people are hard to control," Lahara said while sitting on the balcony, swaying her feet back and forth like a child. The most striking feature she had was her curly caramel-colored hair and orange eyes. "But Matilda Prescott is just a child. She couldn't possibly resist the moonflowers' effect for so long, Your Royal Highness." The mage-turned-knight looked at her with a playful smile on her face. "Why are you worried?"

"Lady Prescott's surprisingly close relationship with Captain Kiho is a variable I cannot ignore, Lahara."

"Do you want me to kill him, Princess Nia?"

"Don't be too arrogant," she scolded her. "My brother once told me that Captain Kiho is worth a hundred thousand of elite knights. And that if the captain wished to, he could invade several small countries on his own. Even if you're a mage, you can't easily kill Captain Kiho. Especially not when you just lost a huge portion of your Mana when you left the White Tower."

"Is he that strong?" Lahara asked curiously. "I've been locked up in the White Tower for far too long that I didn't know any outstanding knight of this generation, except for Captain Noel Sherwood."

"Captain Kiho is strong," Nia said with a faint smile. "So strong that I want to add him to my little collection."

***

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