Chapter 2.Caelius von Wittelsbach
Aria had been at the Wittelsbach manor for a week. Despite her determination to cheer up Caelius, there were few options to console her devastated father in the aftermath of the disaster.
“Daughter, what happened?” he inquired with a patronizing tone.
“Hey, this is something Lily drew… and I wanted to give it to Daddy…!”
Having witnessed similar scenarios in parenting videos, Aria affectionately referred to herself as “Lily” and presented the tiny drawing paper. Throughout the exchange, Aria’s hands and feet were in agony, though she concealed her discomfort.
On the drawing paper, the saccharine-haired Caelius and the golden-haired Aria stood side by side, holding hands.
Aria smiled, an intentional display of innocence. Aria decided not to be used as a treacherous chess piece.
Caelius’s face crumpled subtly for a time. But he swiftly brushed it away and smiled again. Then, in a beautiful voice, he said the words he didn’t mean to say.
“That’s good,” he replied, “the mansion seems to have brightened up since your arrival, and that makes me happy.
Caelius moved over to Aria, setting down a stack of papers that appeared to be highly important, and gently brushed Aria’s hair.
Their gazes met in midair, and Aria returned her apologetic smile, but she was scared on the inside.
After a long moment of staring into Caelius’ eyes, she slowly began to dig into her skirt pocket taking out a small, paper-folded flower.
“Dad, and this is what I folded…….”
Caelius cut Aria off with a cold look. Aria continued while her tiny shoulders jerked but didn’t show it.
“Yes! I’m folding it for Daddy!”
“Thank you, daughter.”
Caelius smiled as he accepted what she gave this time. He even displayed it on his office desk.
Aria was the one who felt humiliated. Aria looked at him, anxiously chewing her lower lip.
‘All the other tyrant dads in the novels weren’t this good to begin with……’
‘At first, you treat them like bugs, then they creep up on you, and by the time you know it, you’re an idiot, which is pretty much the definition of proper parenting……!
‘But Caelius is constantly smiling, no matter what I say or do, so I can’t figure it out.’
Yes, the fictitious tyrant’s fathers were honest about their feelings.
They were cruel if they didn’t like their daughters, and coddling and doting if they thought they were cute and deserved to be tolerated.
Caelius, on the other hand, was always smiling.
It was difficult to deal with him, who always returned with a friendly smile even if I could see that he was gradually changing in response to my efforts.
‘I guess I’m screwed after all,’ she says.
Aria was heartbroken. Caelius’ transformation was proving more difficult than she had anticipated.
If anything, her childhood’s tyrant fathers appeared easier to bear with. At least, not in comparison to the insane, murdering maniac in front of him.
“But I can’t give up; I don’t have any other option.”
Aria tightened her grip on the hem of her skirt, suppressing her fear.
‘I need to get closer to Caelius, I need to get…… closer to him.’
Undaunted, she tried again, this time speaking softly to Caelius.
She called out to Caelius, who quickly shifted his attention to Aria.
“You don’t mind if I take you for a walk, do you……?”
Aria pursed her lips and spat out the words with trepidation.
She was partly terrified of being rejected, and half afraid of being despised by him for being so busy.
Aria tightened her grip on herself. But, contrary to her expectations, Caelius was gentler this time.
“I’m sure there’s nothing I can’t do for your daughter. Come on, let’s go for a walk in the garden, maybe have some tea together?”
Observing the substantial piles of papers on his desk, it was evident that Caelius had a considerable workload. Despite this, he gladly accepted Aria’s offer, rendering her momentarily speechless.
“Look at this. What kind of tyrannical dad in the world would react like this from the start?”
Aria felt a cold sweat trickle down the back of her neck as a large hand extended toward her. It was Caelius. He looked up with gentleness, offering a smile as if inviting her for an escort.
His hands, weathered and callused from years of wielding a sword, and his face, a departure from his once clean-cut features, told stories of battles and hardships.
As Caelius’s hand came into view, Aria momentarily forgot she was supposed to hold it, lost in her thoughts.
‘How many lives have these hands taken? How many people have they killed, how much blood have they spilled, and how can that hand not have my blood on it…?’
As these thoughts raced through her mind, she instinctively recoiled, contemplating the possibility of this hand one day taking her life. Her heart raced, thump, thump.
Trying to steady herself, Aria took a shaky breath, attempting to calm her stomach, when Caelius’s voice once again drifted over her head.
“Daughter?” Caelius called urgently.
Finally composing herself, Aria forced the corners of her mouth upward and reached for his hand. Her fingertips trembled, but fortunately not enough to betray her emotions.
“I don’t want to die. I’m going to live, I’m going to live.”
With that thought, Aria followed him, resisting against her reddening eyes. Despite her repeated assurances that she would live, the anxiety of an uncertain future lingered persistently.
* * *
Caelius had been a devoted parent.
He tried to accomplish whatever Aria asked of him, and he kept every primitive picture or flower she drew and displayed it in his office.
As if it were done on purpose.
“My daughter seems to enjoy paper crafts.”
Caelius grumbled as he looked at Aria’s new paper flowers.
“Maybe we should get her an art teacher or a papercraft teacher.”
Aria paused when a teacher was mentioned. She had no interest in origami in the first place and had simply faintly emulated the other Lopan mistresses’ movements in an attempt to impress Caelius.
This was the outcome of her efforts.
“It makes no difference.
No, it’s not going to alter anything since it’s all phony laughter.
Aria forced a deep swallow, forcing the lump in her throat down.
“Oh, it’s okay, I just wanted to make it for my dad.”
Aria gave him an awkward smile as he looked at her paintings and paper flowers, which had already taken up a whole bookcase.
“May I also put these here?”
“No, bring it here. It’s my daughter’s labor of love, and I should leave it on my desk for the rest of the day.”
What type of tyrant father does this?
Aria’s eyes drifted shut as she struggled with her decision. She detected a menacing undertone underlying his smiling face, and the lack of obvious change just contributed to her anxiety.
Aria carefully placed the paper flower on his desk with shaky hands. Caelius maintained his enigmatic smile.
“I was thinking of introducing you at the Imperial Fall Banquet next month…?”
He asked, stroking Aria’s blond hair, that cascaded down to her waist. Aria paused and averted her look at the unexpected offer, but she couldn’t refuse Caelius’ offer.
“I-I’m all for it!”
“Yeah! Hehe, I love anything with you.”
Caelius beamed with a very gorgeous smile and pulled Aria into a hug as a reaction to her response.
“I like everything I do with my daughter too.”
A lie. A blatant lie.
“It’s going to be my daughter’s debutante ball, and we should go look at dresses together.”
Caelius kissed my back and said pleasantly. Even I, who had read the original, was confused by the sight of him in front of me, but what if I hadn’t read the original?
‘Don’t even think about it.
His smiling face was a solid mask with no visible cracks. Aria could only tighten her fists and curl the corners of her mouth.
* * *
Caelius was wonderful. To be more specific, he was just kind to Aria.
Of course, he was kind to everyone who helped him, but he was especially gracious to Aria. As if she were the most important of all of them.
That was still true now.
“I think your daughter will look good in this golden dress.”
Look at how he meticulously selects each piece of clothing. What type of tyrant is my father?
Caelius selected the dress, and Aria simply agreed.
A gown for someone who has been living in the Marquise’s attic in a tiny slip she thinks Aeryn wore.
Aria had no idea what was going on, leaving everything to the clerk and Caelius. Dress shopping was more time-consuming and overwhelming than she thought.
“Daughter, are you feeling uncomfortable?”
Caelius asked, worried if he had noticed her discomfort.
“I’m fine, it’s just that I’ve never done anything like this before, so it’s a little awkward…….”
Aria, never refusing to pass up an opportunity, shrugged her shoulders pitifully.
“I mean, I never really went dress shopping when I was at the Marquis’s……. So it’s a little strange.”
Aria stared up at Caelius with as much sullenness as she could summon, knowing it wasn’t precisely a lie.
“Normally, I’d expect a man to sympathize with this sort of thing……
Caelius, on the other hand, remained the same, soothing me with fake sympathy while concealing his genuine thoughts behind a hard mask.
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t very attentive as a father.”
“Don’t worry too much. We’ll make up for it by spending more time with your daughter in the future.”
Aria had goosebumps as he patted her shoulder.
“Thank you, go……” Dad.”
His mask remained strong, and he softly smiled, comforting her, but there was no love or affection in his dark eyes.
Cailius brought her to a good restaurant and a dessert cafe popular with young people before returning to the mansion later that day.
Aria, on the other hand, found them all uncomfortable. No melt-in-your-mouth cake or jewelry sparkled so brightly that it hurt her eyes. It felt like a trap, s*cking my breath away.
“Daughter, you’ve had a long day, and since this is our first outing together, I wanted to make it a memorable one, so I’ve done a lot of research and I hope you like …….”
Upon her return from the outing, a bouquet of dozens of roses awaited her. Aria stared at the floral arrangement before her.
“I’ll try to spend more time with my daughter next time,” Caelius’s soothing voice drifted into her ear. Aria’s eyes narrowed, her expression uncontrollable like an idiot.
It took a while before she could bring herself to look up at him. When she did, her eyes met his as if she had been anticipating this moment. His jet-black eyes stared at Aria intently.
Suddenly, Aria’s heart skipped a beat. It wasn’t a feeling of happiness, or admiration, or excitement, or anything else.
“Crazy. This is all a lie.” Fear. Yes, it was fear. A small shiver ran down Aria’s spine. Despite her reluctance, it was an instinctive fear, causing her vision to blur.
“Why the hell are you doing this? The words you’ve whispered in my ear, the kindness you’ve shown me today, the gentle smile on your face. None of it is genuine. How can someone be so…”
‘I don’t understand. No, I’ll never understand.’
The ground beneath her feet seemed to be disintegrating. Aria lacked the guts to break through Caelius’ disguise, which seemed as impenetrable as a city wall. Every confrontation left her feeling dejected as if she was losing ground every time she faced him.
My throat was tight. I had to force myself to swallow again and again since I was on the verge of crying until I eventually managed to calm her and force her lips to part.
“Thank you…… Dad.”
As I took the bouquet, my fingers trembled. I was so frightened at the time that I dropped the bouquet on the floor.
The beautiful red roses dropped to the white marble floor, ruined, with a dull thud. The shredded petals were like blood on the floor.
The tangle of flowers between Caelius and Aria resembled a river of blood.
” I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Dad, I mean, I didn’t do it on purpose…….”
Aria quickly scooped up the shattered bouquet, fearful of offending Caelius.
“Oh no, he must have been surprised by the suddenness of it.”
But Caelius was quicker to respond.
“Don’t worry, it’s just a rose, and I can buy another one.”
“It’s not a ‘but,’ it’s truly fine.”
“…Sorry, I’m sorry.”
Aria’s voice broke, resembling that of a frightened child.
“I’ll take care of that.”
Aria reached for the hastily ruined bouquet, but Caelius shook his head as if he genuinely didn’t mind.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll send a new one to your room in the morning.”
Caelius smiled and signaled for the attendants around him to assist Aria with bathing and massage, considering her likely exhaustion.
“I wish you a good night. I’ll see you tomorrow morning, daughter.”
Aria watched Caelius’s back as he walked away, carrying the ruined bouquet. His gait remained as steady as ever. Although he had likely moved out of sight, Aria’s feet remained planted.
Uncertain of how much longer she would have stood there, a maid’s announcement about the availability of warm water finally prompted her to move. The maid guided her to the bathroom, breaking the spell Caelius’s departure had cast on her.
* * *
It was unfortunate, but Aria felt she had no choice. Regardless of her fear or hesitation, she had to continue working each day to win his favor.
The gap between her and Caelius seemed persistent, perhaps even more so, leaving Aria increasingly uneasy.
“It’s okay, there’s still plenty of time.”
Despite her attempts at self-reassurance, the looming deadline weighed heavily on her, and no amount of encouragement could alleviate the unease settling within her.
Aria ceased reading her notes on the original story and slumped helplessly on the bed. The warmth of the sun beating down on her body felt unnecessary.
In truth, the gravity of treason and the guillotine had yet to fully sink in. On especially challenging days, vague thoughts like, “Maybe I’ll make it through this, maybe I’ll make it through that,” would cross her mind. She desperately wanted to believe in the possibility of survival.
The most important thing was that she wanted to live. Aria raised her limp arm and reread her notes.
“Yeah, hanging on like this isn’t going to change anything.”
Aria forced herself to her feet and, like she always did, took a step toward where she wanted to go.
Of course, his feet landed in Caelius’ office.
“I came here to draw!”
Caelius smiled as she greeted him, and Aria smiled as she laid out her sketchbook and colored pencils.
A mature young lady arrived at her father’s office to draw. This childish behavior, so out of touch with her peers, appeared strange.
Caelius still had a smile on his face tugging at the corners of his mouth. He also requested that his servants bring him orange juice and cookies.
The attention to detail was amazing. I questioned if this was the genuine Caelius, or if the first Caelius was fiction.
I wished that the first story was fake.
Yes, I wish Caelius’ acts weren’t all lies. I hope the original was simply a fantasy of mine…… I certainly hope so.
A scene from the original flashed over Aria’s head as if the gods were punishing her for thinking such ridiculous thoughts.
Aria, drenched in blood after a prolonged interrogation, slumped helplessly in the dungeon. Beyond the bars, Caelius was being forcibly taken away by the hands of the Imperial Knights, leaving a grisly trail of red blood wherever he was dragged. The extent of the torture he had endured was beyond belief, especially for someone who had once been the crown prince.
Aria cried out in panic at the sight of the mangled Caelius. As he was dragged away, he lifted his head and stared at her with emotionless eyes. He, who used to shine like the sun, now appeared shattered, and Aria couldn’t control the tears streaming down her cheeks.
How did this happen? Aria thought, overwhelmed by the transformation in someone who once resembled her so closely.
“Dad, are you okay? What can I do? Your face is bleeding…”
The knights attempted to prevent them from talking by dragging him away, but he shook his head and said, “This will be the last time.”
“Why don’t you at least let me talk to my daughter for the last time?”
Understanding the weight of that final word, Aria gritted her teeth and sobbed softly. Though she might have lost her glorious blonde hair and golden eyes, she refused to lose the memory of Caelius, the once-dashing figure in her eyes.
“I may have lost my glorious blonde hair and golden eyes, but I will never be Emperor. To me, Caelius was always the dashing, dashing Caelius. I couldn’t believe I was the last of him.”
“Ah, Daddy, Black, Black… Daddy…”
Aria could no longer speak, only sobbing, and a slow sigh escaped Caelius’s lips as he watched her.
It was a sigh tinged with slight irritation.
At his call, Aria nodded, wiping the tears from her eyes. The chains that bound her clanked with every movement.
“You’ve done a good job. Hmm?”
Aria wiped her tears away, her face bewildered as she turned to face Caelius. With a harsh and cold gaze, he looked down at her. He pushed past her with a swift click of his tongue as she was ready to speak. Aria stared blankly at the place where he disappeared.
“I’m sorry… Dad, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’ve done wrong…”
She begged in a tearful tone. Caelius didn’t seem to notice her cries rebounding off his back.
As he remembered the original, a shiver ran down her spine. Why does this damned original continue to bother me?
“I never want to be like the original,” Aria resolved, but Caelius’s mask remained impenetrable, leaving her powerless. The situation felt like a total disaster.
“Daughter, what are you drawing?” He put down his papers and smiled, a smile that sent a shiver down Aria’s spine.
“Uh, I was just drawing your face!” Hehe, Aria forced a smile. Caelius returned the smile with one of his own. A large hand gently stroked her hair.
“I drew it well.”
“Yes. My daughter seems to have a knack for drawing.”
He smiled and picked up one of the cookies the maids had brought, handing it to Aria. After a moment’s hesitation, she accepted the cookie tentatively.
“Are they good?”
“Yes! Everything you give me is delicious.”
Caelius laughed as he carefully brushed the cookie crumbs from the corner of her mouth. Aria rolled her eyes awkwardly at the meticulous care as if she were something precious being handled with caution.
“Eat up, daughter.”
He leaned closer to her, and she flinched, startled by his sudden closeness. Caelius nonchalantly touched her wrist.
“You’re too skinny.”
His black hair rustled in front of her, leaving his distinct body scent on the tip of her nose. He smiled slightly as he tugged on her wrist again, then looked at Aria.
“If you don’t fill out, I’m going to have to feed you many delicious things in the future.”
Aria’s tear-stained eyes dilated inward. His smile was so well carved that she felt as if her heart had stopped beating when she caught his gaze.
When Aria didn’t speak, Caelius’s hand went to her cheek. His callused palm gently cupped her cheek, a testament to the years spent wielding a sword.
“Daughter, what are you thinking.”
He let out a stuttering sound, surprised by the sudden contact. Aria rubbed the spot where his hand had just touched her, stunned.
“It’s just, it’s just a moment…… ah, you’re so cool, I’m surprised…….”
Flustered, she stammered, not entirely sure what she was talking about, and this made her blush bright red.
Finding amusement in the situation, Caelius began to laugh out loud.
“My daughter is cute.”
The slightest movement and their lips would be touching. Aria stiffened with tension. For a moment, it felt like they’d switched genres from survival to romance. Aria squeezed her eyes shut, trying to calm the pounding in her heart that could be heard even by Caelius.
Regardless, Caelius continued to pursue Aria relentlessly. There was an awkward silence between them until he broke it.
“This is so cute…….”
“My daughter, sometimes I think she looks at me with the strangest eyes.”
“Like she’s scared.”
For a moment, Aria’s eyes went wide, and she didn’t understand why she was suddenly saying this. A breathless moment passed. A second seemed like an hour.
Aria swallowed dryly and broke out in a cold sweat. After a short pause, he looked away, and when he did, she was able to speak as if she’d finally gotten her breath back.
“Oh, no… something like that…….”
Aria awkwardly raised the corner of her mouth, trying desperately to hide her fear, though it didn’t seem to work.
“Lee, Lee Lee… daddy is my favorite thing in the world.”
Her voice trembled slightly, a clear sign of fear. A hiccup threatened to escape, and she bit down on the soft flesh in her mouth to hold it together. When she finally managed to speak, Caelius’s eyes crinkled into a bewitching smile.
“You’re my favorite daughter in the world.”
The way he whispered it, his voice held a predatory tone, reminiscent of a predator taunting its prey.