Chapter 1 – Part 2
The aristocrats of the capital temporarily halted their social activities around that time.
It was due to the imminent death of the Emperor. His injuries from the last conquest war had worsened to an incurable state.
His last moments were quite miserable for someone who had achieved a great victory in the last conquest war.
The Emperor, Heinrich, was a stern and rough man, often referred to as both a saint and a tyrant.
He ascended to the throne at the age of eighteen, killing his parents, and managed to reclaim the territories lost by his incompetent father, bringing the name of Evgard back to the continent.
Privately, he was a strict and gruff man, and it was said that it was the same with Empress Beatrice.
After entering the carriage to the palace, Lord Evan continued to rant about how Tenere ruined everything.
He said that all social events would be temporarily suspended after the mourning, and there would be no chance to build a friendship with Alaina.
All Tenere could do was bow her head and apologize. The only fortunate thing was that he did not prepare a whip to use on her, at least for now.
Upon reaching the palace, they, along with others, waited in the corridor to enter the Emperor’s sick room one by one.
The three marquises went to the Emperor’s sick room to pay their respects.
First was Marquis Trabel, the Empress’s father, followed by Marquis Salvatore, the Crown Prince’s fiance.
“…The Empress doesn’t seem to be crying.”
Tenere waited, staring at the closed door, and some people behind her whispered.
“Well, the Empress wouldn’t be too sad about the Emperor’s… death…”
After that, the voices faded, and Tenere couldn’t hear the exact words. But she could guess the content.
The story that the Emperor didn’t love the Empress was already widely known.
As time passed, the door remained closed.
“Is it possible that Her Majesty had a lot to say to Marquis Salvatore?”
Someone muttered softly as they looked at the closed door, expressing their displeasure at the lengthening of the process.
The door only opened after a long while.
Alaina and Marquis Salvatore appeared through the open door. Unlike her usual self, Alaina was dressed in a modest black dress with no decorations or exposure, her head deeply bowed.
Marquis Salvatore murmured softly, but Alaina, pretending not to hear, continued to move forward with brisk steps.
It was a sight never seen before, as Alaina, the perfect lady, and the future Empress, had never appeared in such a way.
The Marquis hurriedly followed her.
The Marquis’s voice grew a bit louder. Given the impending death of the Emperor, it wasn’t a particularly loud voice, but in the quiet corridor, it drew everyone’s attention.
Alaina’s voice was low but clear. It was too rude after meeting the Emperor; however, it was a bit too much for her to spit out such words.
Someone gasped, and Alaina just kept walking, bowing deeply somewhere.
The Marquis followed her quickly. Silence filled the corridor for a long time.
“She didn’t mean to say that about the king right?”
Someone cautiously spoke up. Alaina was well aware that even a small slip of the tongue could spread various rumors.
“But she didn’t say anything disloyal to Her Majesty, did she?”
Some murmured as they looked at the place Alaina had passed.
Parents with grown-up daughters pretended to be concerned about Alaina’s rudeness. It was a cunning thought that if she were to step down from her position as the prince’s fiancée, they could push their daughter into that place. However, Tenere, who had been quietly listening, tilted her head.
Eric asked softly. Tenere opened her mouth but swallowed the words she intended to say when she felt the surrounding gazes.
“… It’s nothing.”
“She’s acting strange.”
Tenere tried to shake off a strange premonition while hearing murmurs from above her head.
Her distorted face, flushed eyes, the hand that pushed away Marquis Salvatore, and that fleeting moment when Alaina glared at her father.
‘She seemed angry…’
As Tenere knew, that was definitely an angry expression. Alaina was furious, at her own father.
‘. I must have seen it wrong.’
It was foolish to speculate on her emotions based on a fleeting expression.
Tenere tried not to speculate about anything. It was, after all, none of her concern.
Even if it were her concern, she had nothing she could do about it.
Despite knowing that, Tenere’s gaze followed the place where Alaina had disappeared for a long time.
Alaina didn’t return.
Alaina had completely vanished. The Crown Prince Leonard, ascended to the throne alone without a queen.
Out of respect for Alaina, who had been preparing to become a queen since her childhood, the imperial court had left the queen’s position vacant for a while.
The Empress’ caretaker, who particularly cherished Alaina, filled the void left by the Empress.
However, a year had passed since Alaina Salvatore disappeared, and it was said that the royal palace couldn’t leave the queen’s position vacant any longer.
Rumors were rife that a new queen to replace Alaina would be found at the upcoming royal party.
Tenere stood at the party venue much more splendidly dressed than usual. She was accompanied by her friend, Sophia Cloddy.
“His Imperial Majesty is late.”
“Because of his busy official duties.”
On the chairs arranged on the walls of the party hall, some unmarried young nobles gathered, chatting and waiting for partners or simply taking a break.
Sophia, who had been wandering around the party venue for a while, spoke up.
“This feels like a hunting ground.”
Tenere turned to her.
“Isn’t it? A hunting ground to catch a suitable spouse.”
“You’re quite good at archery, Tenere. You might excel in hunting as well.”
Sophia laughed playfully as she met Tenere’s eyes. Tenere also let out a slight chuckle.
“I’m good, but I couldn’t even catch a single squirrel.”
“You think I don’t know your skills?”
Sofia’s comment, which sounded incredulous, made Tenere shift her gaze.
Sofia had witnessed Tenere’s archery skills before. She had been amazed when Tenere shot two arrows simultaneously, hitting the target. Tenere’s return from the hunting ground empty-handed was truly unbelievable, unless it was intentional.
“His Imperial Majesty and Her Imperial Majesty are entering!”
As the announcement of the Emperor and Empress Dowager’s entrance echoed, the nobles seated rose from their seats, showing their respect.
As the Emperor signaled the start of the party with the first dance with the Empress, the nobles flocked to the dance hall as if they had been waiting.
Unattached young individuals without assigned partners mostly gathered around the young Emperor.
Sophia lightly tapped Tenere’s elbow.
“You should go too, Tenere so that Marquis Evan won’t scold you.”
“Did Viscount Cloddy say anything to you?”
“Fortunately, my father gave up early on, and the man who kept Lord Salvatore at his side said there was no way I’d ever have a chance. He told me to stop thinking about it and get ready to study abroad.”
Sophia laughed, covering her mouth with her fan.
In reality, noble marriages were more about the union of families than love, so the position of the Empress required at least the status of a duke or marquis or at least earls.
Sophia, being a Viscount’s daughter, found it better to give up early.
Besides, Lord Cloddy was a person who poured all her attention into her children’s education, wanting to send his daughter to the Solen Kingdom Academy for studies.
Of course, Sophia, who preferred a carefree life, was not keen on such plans.
“Come on, the Marquis is looking over here with a scary look on his face.”
Sophia whispered. As Tenerr raised her head, she saw the Marquis gesturing in their direction.
Tenere tried to swallow a sigh and shifted her feet in the direction indicated by the Marquis, holding a handkerchief tightly in her hand.
* * *
Many young people already surrounded the Emperor.
When Alaina, who had been guarding him, disappeared and their engagement officially broke off, many of them struggled to catch his eye
Tenere quietly merged into the crowd of young people. Some who had been close to Alaina greeted her warmly and made room for her.
Tenere found it a bit strange but attributed it to his high-ranking father.
“Is Lady Evan also sent by the Marquis too?”
Jenice of the Duke of Deferac came over sneakily.
The words ‘Marquis too’ meant that there were several people in her situation.
As Tenere nodded, Jenice glanced around and then leaned toward Tenere’s ear.
“Maybe about half of us are in a similar situation.”
“They all have fathers who…”
Janice was unsure how to continue and hesitated.
The friends who were close to Alaina were all wearing similar expressions. They dressed extravagantly and smiled like they meant it, but their feelings were insincere.
“Being an Empress is good, but I doubt she’d feel comfortable spying on her friend’s fiancé right? And of course, our fathers think shallow friendships only last until marriage.”
“We’re not even married yet, so I’m sure you can understand the shallow friendship thing.”
In response to the teasing remark, Tenere glanced discreetly towards the Emperor. He was conversing with Laura Hale.
Since his coronation a year ago, he wore a red cape over a uniform adorned with a golden emblem.
The crown on his head and the trailing cape seemed a bit uncomfortable for dancing.
“Are you all thinking the same thing?”
Tenere asked cautiously. Jenice glanced at Laura Hale, who was being teased by the Emperor.
Until last year, she used to stick to Alaina and glare at Tenere. Now, she was blushing excitedly.
“At least the ones who genuinely liked Alaina, unless you’re a slutty little bimbo who’s trying to stick it to the prospective Empress somehow.”
Although it was aimed at Laura Hale, Tenere, who had been approaching Alaina under the orders of his father, felt somewhat ashamed.
However, neither Jenice nor the other young people seemed to hold any grudge against Tenere.
“That’s why they say the Queen should be chosen from aged men, not young women. Once that happens, fathers will willingly wear dresses and makeup.”
“My father will abstain, he has a big belly these days and the dress won’t fit.”
“Isn’t it possible to tighten the corset somehow?”
“No, it’ll burst, burst.”
Dahlia exaggeratedly gestured, causing quiet laughter among the young ladies.
It’s rare for young ladies to harbor dissatisfaction against authoritative fathers, so their conversation went on for a while.
“Lord Deferac has an enigmatic charm, so a seductive red dress might suit him.”
“I prefer a demure father… But wouldn’t red go well with Lord Oberon?”
“Oh, how did you know my father likes red?”
Dahlia giggled with her hand covering her mouth. Tenere couldn’t dare put her own father in question and could only stifle her laughter.
Jenice’s gaze glanced at her.
“Lord Evan might prefer a flamboyant dress. Something with laces and ribbons…”
Imagining her father shuffling around in a dress made them all snicker. While they had been quiet, when Dahlia burst into laughter, mischievous smiles
But in that moment, a voice interrupted.
Tenere and the others were taken aback, lifting their heads. It was none other than Emperor Leonard.