Chapter 9:

Love Me Dirty

The Wanderblood Princess and Sir Try Hard

Chiffon stared at the skulking figure hiding behind the tree trunk, fearful and waiting for her to act. It had seen what she did to its brethren. Its trembling eyes were tainted with murder, a layer of panic stopping it from acting impulsively as she approached. She was a monster, very much so in its eyes.

Yet, that didn’t stop Chiffon. Her mallet swung at the air right next to it, forcing the Hill Giant child to leap away. Bark flew into the air, shaved off from where its fingers dug in rage. It tripped over its own legs and crashed to the ground, back first. The height of a giant was impressive, even at a young age. If it had been standing up, its height would be close to Chiffon. The smooth skin of its body, not yet cracked and marred by the harshness of nature, made it look almost human. The tattered hide around its waist added to the feel of a mere child in the wilderness.

Compared to Chiffon, who grinned maliciously, one would almost consider her a bully, a snobbish person of the upper echelon punishing a servant child who had wronged its master. But the greenish tint of its skin made all the difference. It was not human; it didn’t deserve a mercy meant for humankind.

For an adventurer simply doing her duty, that should have been the normal way of thinking. At least, under normal circumstances.

Chiffon’s hand trembled as she held her mallet. The edges of her vision dimmed, and her breathing grew erratic. She was forcing herself, undoubtedly. If she had been alone, there would have been no question that she would turn around and ignore the remaining foe. But Caramello was judging her every action. He would no doubt question her motives for doing so. She could hear him teasing her endlessly of her cowardice. Any excuses had run dry. A simple swing downward was her sole option.

But somehow, the rage had come upon her faster than expected. The colors of her vision blurred, no longer able to distinguish the greenish hue of a monster next to the skin of her own hand. What lay before her slowly looked less like a monster than a boy – sniveling, crying, full of fear. His arm reached up to beckon her for mercy, or at least, a quick and painless death.

Will you kill me too, Princess?

Chiffon’s eyes widened as those words seemed to dance upon the trembling lips in her gaze. It was a sight that she could recall, albeit vaguely.

Blood dripped around them, stained hues of gray and black. The atmosphere was drained of its color. Muffled sounds of a crumbling venue were static in her ears. But there was one statement that clearly pierced that fog of consciousness.

“Will you kill me too, Princess?”

And her answer to that was…

“Of course.”

Her mallet flew downwards, but before it could invoke its intended sermon of death, Chiffon suddenly felt hands gripping her throat. Instantly, she snapped out of the vision that clouded her senses. The Hill Giant child had not remained on the ground while she was mesmerized. Rather, it had smelled her hesitation and decided to strike.

Though it hardly had the strength to suffocate a Royal, it endeavored in its fruitless struggle, banking on it as the best chance of survival. Its slimy hands oozed with slobber and napple juice, dripping upon her dress. A horrid stench puffed from its mouth as it stared at Chiffon’s gaze to see if it was prevailing.

But all Chiffon could feel was disgust. Not only at the monster itself, but for herself for letting it touch her. Dropping her mallet, she gripped the Hill Giant by the arms and dug her nails into the flesh. It roared in pain.

Slowly, she pulled to the side, feeling the sinew and bones within its arms groan to keep in place. Yet, the hands around her neck refused to budge, even as she could feel the fibers around her nail begin to tear.

The monster screamed suddenly again, its back arched and head up. The outline of Caramello with his sword drawn danced in her vision. He had struck the monster in the back, making it pull away from Chiffon just enough to bring her knee up into its stomach painfully.

An explosive force shook through the Hill Giant, and at the same time, a tension like violin strings snapping invoked a recoil. Both arms ripped from the sockets. Blood sprayed across Chiffon’s front, and the taste of iron dotted her mouth. It was savory, making her tongue twitch. But she stopped herself short from licking her lips.

The sudden loss of resistance threw her off balance and tumbling. Her back fell upon the soft dirt, while the pair of torn arms sailed out of her grip and landed with thuds upon the grass. Her breathing erupted into gasps as she tried to calm herself down.

She writhed, not from pain but to contain the insanity. But suddenly, a shadow loomed over her. She went to strike it, but something plugged her mouth. Sweetness, juicy and firm – her tongue lapped up the nectar that flowed into her mouth.

“Calm yourself, Princess. Indulge in the sweet undertones of nature, and let it ease your hunger.”

That didn’t stop her as she swung at her new enemy. Her fist stopped dead upon a sheathed weapon, and with one flick of the wrist and a burst of light, Chiffon’s body was tossed once again to the ground.

A pair of ruby eyes stared right into her, undaunted. In fact, they seemed to smile at her.

“Ready to be rough on our very first outing? I would say that our dinner date was far too short.”

Chiffon huffed, finally recognizing Caramello. Her arms were pinned above her head by his weapon. Perhaps, it was his infuriating words, or the scent of blood and fruit harmonizing – somehow, she came to her senses. Only then did her madness start to lessen.

Caramello’s gaze remained fixed upon Chiffon, never looking away. He had a cheeky smile, victorious even. The kind one had when “I told you can count on me” danced upon his lips. Seeing that she was now tame, he pulled back and allowed her up.

Sobering from her ordeal, enough sense had returned to stare in horror at her own situation. Her eyes swam across the scene, gazing at her own handiwork. The dribbles of darkness upon her fair skin and elegant dress regained its reddish hue. She had slaughtered her enemy in a most horrific way. Devoid of all elegance, she was now bathed in its blood. She was marred with shame.

Her body trembled as the reach of Caramello’s hand drew closer.

What would he say? How would he make fun of me now? I am unsightly! I did it again! Driven to madness twice in a row! I’m anything but a proper princess now!

“A close call, I would say. Showered by the spoils of battle.” His touch was like petals against her cheek.

“Get away from me. I’m in no condition for your quips.” Chiffon hurriedly backpedaled away from Caramello and got up. If she was this disgusted with herself, then surely, he saw her as worse.

“Princess, I-”

“Now, do you see?! I am far from the respectable image that I try to uphold! That is why I do not want anyone to be my knight! That is why I do not want anyone intruding upon my life! So I can make my own mistakes without the embarrassment of being seen! Are you happy now that you’ve seen what so few others have!? Is all your prodding justified now that you’ve seen my true self?!”

Arms suddenly wrapped around her back, drawing her close. Her face was buried in the soft textures of wool and cotton. The fabric soaked up the tears and formed a dampness compressed against her face. He was warm.

“Not to worry. I can clearly see that you are upset.”

“If you know that, then why are you touching me?! You’ll get dirty!”

“And what of it? I cannot be a knight by simply acting as your sword. You are in my care, after all. It is my duty to see to your overall well being, to let you roam free while keeping danger from befalling you. You are my partner in crime. The messes splattered upon you will no doubt spread unto me.”

Chiffon’s face felt a bit flushed. She hadn’t expected for him to simply come up and embrace her. Expectations of teasing and disappointment were amidst, but not this. Thoughts whirled in her mind, coming up with convenient excuses for his behavior.

“Hah, so that’s it… You wish to play the protector and look good. That is the only way for a commoner such as yourself to shine. To take on the mantle and gain a name for yourself in contrast to the ugliness of the mistress that you’ve been placed with. If that is your game-”

Chiffon was cut off as Caramello suddenly pulled back. Her words were suddenly lost as she saw the pained expression on his face.

“You mistake me for a normal man, aspiring for the ranks to simply gain power.” The bitterness of his voice cut through her accusations. “If you believe that, then mere quips and sweet treats would hardly be a suitable toolbox to control Your Highness.”

Chiffon gulped, acknowledging the danger he had put himself in. “Then, for what reason do you treat me in such a manner? First, you drive me crazy. Then, you play nice. It is utterly confusing!”

Caramello’s head drew forward, making Chiffon pull back out of instinct. But a gentle pressure against her back kept her from retreating. If she wanted to, she could break free from his grip easily. But the mesmerizing gaze in his eyes, a look that seemed to absorb her entire being within them, made her go momentarily weak.

His lips slid past her cheeks and toward her right ear, and with a soft whisper, his next words became like a knife held against her throat.

“Because you interest me. And I can’t help but poke and prod. Even if my life depended on it, curiosity is my downfall. As I am enamored by Your Highness.”

“Am I just some guinea pig to you?!” Chiffon’s defensive instinct flared up, feeling like his compliments were mere teasing in disguise. Her arm raised in preparation to strike a deadly blow.

“Perhaps… but a lovely one, for sure.”

Chiffon was frozen on the spot, trembling as she tried to comprehend what his words meant. There was not a trace of jest in his tone. It was saccharine. Like he had found his favorite thing to gorge upon. No one had ever behaved in such a manner towards her. There was always a certain distance that others imposed, a level of respect or caution. But this man was willing to shatter it all. To willingly step into harm’s way to pursue his desires.

“You will embrace a jewel fallen in the mud, just because?” Chiffon hesitantly asked, her eyes downcast.

“One must get dirty to wipe such things. A layer of grit and grime shed after polish. Effort is needed to see that which shines with beauty.”

Perhaps, it would be fine to tell him that which plagued her. Caramello clutched her against him, like an anxious child eager to open his present. And if she didn’t cast away her silly pride, then he would continue to rattle her, until some clue of her contents formulated in his mind.

But by then, how damaged would she become? Would he finally open her up, only to discover a broken girl? Keeping silent on her fears had resulted in the mess that she was in. And if she had only caved in sooner, Caramello could have done the job properly. She had hindered that due to her own bitterness.

Gently, Chiffon tugged on the man’s coat, signaling to him to let her go. He obliged, letting her step back and brush herself off. Even covered in blood, she switched herself to a mask of elegance, gripping the hem of her dress and offering a slight bow of the head.

“Let us talk, Sir Caramello. If you must try hard for me, then some matters need to be addressed.”

“With pleasure, Princess,” Caramello replied with a deep bow, his right hand over his heart. “Though I find Your Highness no less attractive in your current state, I believe others may beg to differ. Shall we find some place discreet to freshen up?”

Chiffon looked down at herself again. The splatters of rich crimson hardly blended in with the pink dress she had on, no matter how she tried to smear it. And most of her lower half was stained brown from tussling upon the ground. She was in no condition to stroll back into town. Her pride wouldn’t allow for it.

A thick coat was thrown over her head. It was warm and inviting.

“Shame is unbecoming of you. But that is what I am here for. Take my coat and play the role of a tragic town girl. No one else will need to know what has occurred here. None save the five mouths that are sworn to secrecy and myself. A secret is best kept at the back of one’s tongue, savored and not shared.”

Caramello stuck a finger into his mouth and pulled it out with a loud pucker. He brought forth his dampened finger in front of Chiffon.

“Not unless you are willing to partake in its messiness.”

Chiffon wrinkled her nose and pushed his hand away. Recalling that her hidden guards should be around, their lack of help seemed a bit strange. But it was hardly the right time to whine to others about not being saved.

“You are a strange man, Sir Try Hard. I can’t say that I will ever understand you.”

“Surely, that would only require some effort.”

With a chuckle, Caramello took her hand and led her away from the hills.