Chapter 6. Swamp
-I love you, Daddy!
-Daddy, I love you.
Caelius’ head, cut from the guillotine, is the last thing Aria sees before she dies. She’ll never forget it.
The shredded skin, the horrifyingly tilted eyes. Her father’s head, the man she once loved, lay motionless in the mud.
Aria nuzzled her neck groggily as she awoke.
It was an odd dream.
Her last day with Caelius.
Her heart was pounding, and just thinking of it sent chills down her spine. She squeezed her eyes shut and blinked dry.
[If you want to live, you’re going to stick by my side and whimper and s*ck my c*ck or lick my feet].
[If you really want to run away, you’d better pull out all your hair, gouge out your eyeballs, and disfigure your face until I don’t recognize you].
Caelius’s words still echoed in her mind that day.
Aria took a slow, deep breath and steadied her quivering hands. Her pounding heart eventually slowed. She sipped cold water from a nearby table and massaged her eyes.
I just want to give up everything. If I die here, I can’t go back to Korea.’
She buried her face in her pillow.
‘I wasn’t happy with my life right now.’
* * *
The time flew by. The moon changed, bringing in a new year. Aria had no choice but to accompany Caelius to the Imperial New Year’s Eve celebration.
She looked up at the voice calling her and saw Caelius in his colorful attire, smiling and holding out his hand to her.
“Come, I’ll escort you.”
Caelius still treated her as if nothing had happened. She no longer had any hope of winning his heart back. Now she could only hope that his treason would succeed.
He wore his usual black uniform, but today, on a whim, he wore a pure white one, and the golden embroidery on it was stunning.
As she followed him out of the mansion, she glanced at the portrait of Caelius hanging in the foyer. Blond and golden-eyed. It was a far cry from the man he was now.
I stared at the portrait for a moment, staring at Caelius in his prime, and then looked away. He forced himself to take a heavy step.
For the first time, Aria and Caelius would be attending the New Year’s Ball together, where Caelius would be drinking poisoned champagne.
‘Being a Swordmaster won’t kill me or put my condition in danger, but…….’ He slashed the servant who brought him the champagne on the spot.
This had tarnished the reputation of the Emperor and the nobles of the Emperor’s faction, but regardless of that, it was difficult for Aria, who knew the whole story, to remain unperturbed when she saw the poisoned champagne in Caelius’s hand.
“Hah…….” Aria sighed in dismay. “I’ll just have to pretend to drink it for him.”
Caelius, a Swordmaster, stands in stark contrast to my own abilities. Even so, an unexpected spark catches me off guard as I indulge in amusing pastimes. My mind races as my head begins to hurt.
In the original story, Caelius downplays the incident, dismissing it as insignificant. Rather than looking into the details, he deals with the culpable servant quickly, burying the subject without further scrutiny. Even when an assassination attempt on the royal family happens, he handles it with cold efficiency.
Despite Caelius’ casual demeanor, rumors of a hidden puppeteer circulate among those in the know. The emperor himself becomes a target of suspicion.
Since Caelius disclosed the presence of his daughter with imperial powers, the Emperor’s associates have increased their efforts to discredit Caelius. Azekrisis was already irritated by the acquisition of the Adamas Ring, but the discovery of a daughter with imperial powers heightens the political intrigue.
In the face of these actions, he refuses to play the fool and allows their manipulations to go unchallenged. A heavy sigh escapes Aria’s lips, catching Caelius’s attention.
“Feeling uneasy?” he inquires.
Aria hesitates before responding, “Oh, no, just a bit nervous…”
Caelius, with his ever-affectionate demeanor, reaches for Aria’s hand. “Let me alleviate that,” he says gently.
Caelius applies gentle pressure to Aria’s hand, similar to acupressure. Despite his good intentions, his contact startles Aria and makes her stiffen even more.
Her resentment grew as she observed her blonde hair hanging loosely around her waist. The fact that Caelius continued to smile and maintain an outward sweetness only fueled her hatred toward him.
* * *
Upon entering the ballroom, Aria’s tension heightened even further. An uneasy notion struck her mind: who among them might deliver poisoned champagne to Caelius?
Despite her inner turmoil, Aria resolved to mimic the stillness and indifference she displayed in the original story. By doing so, she hoped to avoid arousing suspicion.
The atmosphere in the ballroom buzzed with the excitement of the new year, and many of her peers eagerly anticipated the imperial banquet. However, Aria refrained from mingling with them, steadfastly sticking to Caelius’s side like a chick following its mother.
Despite the festive atmosphere, Aria remained watchful, her attention solely on Caelius. As Azekrisis offered a simple New Year’s greeting, the banquet unfolded, but Caelius still held no champagne in his hand.
“Daughter,” Azekrisis called out.
“Yes, Father?” Aria responded.
“Eat this. It’s a strawberry tart—Daddy’s favorite among all the palace foods,” Caelius urged.
He chuckled softly and presented her with the tart on a small plate. The onlookers, including the nobles, were taken aback, marveling at the evident care Caelius showed for his daughter.
Aria gazed at the strawberry tart in her hand, a lingering doubt crossing her mind. “I hope this isn’t poisoned,” she muttered to herself, eyeing the tart with suspicion. Caelius, unfazed, took the first bite.
“Why, do you think it’s poisoned or something?” he whispered quietly in her ear, ensuring no one else could overhear.
“Don’t worry, daughter. I’m not going to do that just yet,” he reassured, a large hand gently stroking her hair.
“Not yet,” she thought, a sense of foreboding hinting at the possibility of something ominous in the future.
In a moment of racing thoughts, Aria hesitated before speaking, “If you don’t mind, I was wondering if we could have a glass of champagne.”
“Haha, champagne for the holidays,” Caelius responded with a light-hearted tone. The nobles readily obliged, bowing as they offered Caelius a glass of champagne. Aria looked on in surprise, her eyes widening.
A servant was already approaching them with a glass of champagne. Aria’s gaze flickered to the array of champagne glasses on the tray, a seed of suspicion planted in her mind. “Could one of them be…?” she wondered.
As expected, the servant discreetly handed Caelius a glass of his own choosing. The others, seemingly indifferent to their selection, showed no concern about which goblet they picked up, as if signaling that only Caelius should partake.
The sight sent Aria’s heart sinking. Though determined to remain as silent as a mouse, an internal scream urged her to protect Caelius. An involuntary thought echoed in her mind: “I don’t want to see him bleed,” as if she were under some form of influence.
“Ah, Dad…!” Aria exclaimed involuntarily, eager to rouse him. The words slipped out before she could stop them. Caelius turned slowly, as if perplexed, carrying a poisoned champagne glass.
“I, uh, I’d like some champagne, too,” she said quickly, trying to divert attention away from the potentially fatal situation.
Aria couldn’t comprehend what compelled her to speak. Her body seemed to move on instinct, as if being directed by an external force.
“I’ll have that, that, that, that, I’ll have that, and Dad will have a new glass…” Aria continued, her words rushing out. Aria’s face showed mild pain as she disturbed the routine, but she persisted.
“It’s okay, I’ll take that glass, and then you can drop it on the floor or spill it; first, get the goblet away from Caelius,” she said urgently, trying to avoid the risk.
Regardless of her concerns, Aria aggressively snatched the champagne glass from Caelius’s grasp in front of the assembled nobility. Surprisingly, he didn’t react, instead studying her actions with no surprise.
Despite the evident tension, Aria persisted, quickly retrieving a fresh glass of champagne from the servant’s tray and handing it to Caelius. The potentially poisoned champagne was now in Aria’s hands in an instant.
“Hmph, then, the toast is to His Highness the Archduke of Wittelsbach,” Aria said defiantly. The nobles, while taken aback by her audacity, refrained from objecting out of respect for Caelius. Instead, they reluctantly raised their drinks to lighten the mood.
Caelius flashed a wry smile. “To you and yours for another year,” he declared, and the sound of crystal goblets clinking resonated briefly as Caelius and the nobles made a toast.
Aria, the only one who couldn’t drink, trembled considerably. Caelius, now holding an empty glass, turned to face her. She was on the verge of releasing the champagne as an accident when she noticed his stare.
Caelius, on the other hand, gently covered her hand with his own, keeping her from dropping the glass. “Daughter,” he said quietly, wrapping his arms around her and leaning down to speak into her ear.
“Drink, all of it,” the threatening bass voice instructed, his voice tinged with malicious intent. “Don’t throw it away.”
Aria felt a sense of foreboding the instant the voice reached her ears, and she knew something was wrong.
The hand holding the glass trembled, yet Caelius’s firm grasp prevented Aria from letting go of the champagne. Her heart raced, anxiety escalating as his grip tightened, making it almost painful to hold the glass.
“Oh, Dad…” Aria’s voice quivered with fear. The intensity of her emotions was palpable, leaving those around her bewildered and concerned.
“I wanted to cry, I wanted to know what the hell was going through her mind,” Aria sobbed, her voice filled with desperation. “Not this, not this, not this…”
“Drink it,” the commanding voice insisted, its menace leaving no room for refusal.
A stern voice cut through, dropping into Aria’s ear. “You won’t die, so drink it all.” Caelius fixed her with a serious gaze, emphasizing, “Drink it all because you won’t die.”
The revelation struck Aria with a shock. “You didn’t… know it was poisoned?” Her complexion paled, and she could only gaze up at Caelius, trapped and helpless like a deer ensnared in a trap. Though sympathy welled up for her, Caelius’s expression remained unchanged.
“My daughter, I am not a very patient man,” he asserted, the gravity of his tone underscoring the urgency of the situation.
Every word that emanated from his mouth felt like a death sentence. Aria stared blankly at the pale yellow liquid in her hand.
Caelius took matters into his own hands when she didn’t move, pulling the glass from her palm with a determined force. Aria blinked back tears as she felt the poison travel throughout her body.
Caelius now grinned and spoke to the aristocrats, in stark contrast to the moment when he had coldly forced her to drink the poisoned champagne.
“You only turned 18 this year… and you already insisting on drinking champagne,” Caelius Caelius remarked, injecting a light-hearted tone into the conversation.
“Haha, isn’t that what all children do at that age?” chimed in one of the nobility.
“Still, I’m sure she’ll be fine, and it warms my heart to see you so close to your pretty daughter,” someone else said.
The nobility continued to stare on Caelius, unaware of Aria’s pain, until he finally withdrew his hand, giving her the opportunity to drop the glass if she so desired. His bright eyes, however, contained a warning, cautioning her against any abrupt movements.
Aria unwillingly succumbed to the sad fact that refusing to drink might result in an even worse consequence and drained the champagne in one rapid gulp. Even when drinking, she clung to the tiniest spark of hope.
“Maybe it’s not poisonous,” she dared to speculate. Before she could finish the rest of the champagne, a burning pain rushed through her esophagus, snuffing out that hope as swiftly as it had emerged.
The glass in her hand crashed to the floor with a resounding “Bam-.”
“Cuck, cuck, cuck…” Aria’s painful coughing continued. The pristine white dress she and Caelius wore was now stained with blood. The excruciating pain coursing through her body left her unable even to scream.
“It hurts, it’s like my insides are burning,” she exclaimed, tears running from her eyes desperately. Her misery was unlike anything she had ever felt before.
The scene began with the sound of shattered glasses and a bloodcurdling Aria, perfectly expressing the horrific reality of the situation.
The previously bustling atmosphere in the ballroom froze in an instant. Aria’s body convulsed and she tried to maintain her balance.
“You said I wasn’t going to die, as$hole. I’m going to die, f*ck, I’m going to die,” she cried, her eyes filled with desperation. She begged him for help as she stared up at him. She was overcome with fear as their gazes connected.
Caelius looked at her with a confused and almost mirrored expression of uncertainty, rather than the expected arrogant expression. The unexpected turn of events left them both in shock and disbelief.
Then, as if perplexed by the gravity of the situation, he called out to her in a dazed tone. “……daughter?”
Aria’s spine tingled as she heard his agitated words. “Am I going to die like this…?” she wondered, the truth of the situation dawning on her.
Her trembling body reached its limits, and she collapsed onto the cold marble floor. In an instant, Caelius rushed to her side, lifting her from the ground.
“Lily,” he whispered her nickname, his voice marked by an unmistakable tremor. Aria, in the throes of pain, could only respond with painful coughs, blood staining her white dress.
“Lily-!” Caelius’s anguished cry echoed through the ballroom, the severity of the situation etched on both their faces.
Only Caelius’s desperate cries for her echoed through the banquet hall. The nobles, initially stunned by the sudden turn of events, soon snapped to attention as someone shouted:
“Summon the imperial court at once!”
“The princess has fallen! Get the imperial physician!”
The once joyous banquet hall, now engulfed in panic and distress, echoed with urgent cries and the hurried footsteps of those rushing to seek help.
Someone had poisoned the Grand Princess of Wittelsbach’s champagne, and a wave of dismay washed over the nobles. Aria remained huddled in Caelius’ arms, her breathing labored and her lips full of thick blood.
Caelius gently shook her and commanded the lords, “Seize the servant who brought her the champagne and drag him away. Before me, now-!”
Caelius’ normally calm voice faltered, and his normally smirk-adorned face went cold and harsh, reflecting the gravity of the situation.
Caelius breathed harshly, carefully wiping the corner of Aria’s mouth with a trembling hand. His once crisp white uniform was now stained with blood.
“Daughter,” he implored, shaking Aria as if trying to rouse her. “Daughter, wake up… huh? You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Caelius addressed Aria, his words hesitating as he looked at her pale face. The New Year’s Eve party quickly devolved into chaos. Several aristocrats searched the ballroom for the servant who brought the poisoned champagne, while others could only look pityingly at the outraged Caelius.
“Who the hell would…”
“Could it be the Emperor’s sect…”
“You can’t… this kind of nonsense for the new year.”
Caelius howled as he grabbed Aria from the ground. “Daughter, are you okay? Wake up. Please open your eyes,” he begged, touching her cheeks as if she were delirious.
In the middle of the chaos, one of the nobility apprehended the servant who had carried the poisoned champagne. “Your Majesty, this is the man who gave you and the princess poisoned champagne earlier…” the noble reported, accusingly pointing a finger at the supposed perpetrator.
As the servant was carried away, Caelius grabbed his blade from his waistband, as if he didn’t need to hear anything else. Before the aristocrat could continue his statement, the razor-sharp sword penetrated the servant’s body.
“How dare you threaten the one and only Lily-!”
As he took the sheathed blade from his belt and swung it at the servant once more, blood spilled across the white marble floor.
“How dare you……, how dare you……!”
Caelius continued to slash at the servant’s already lifeless body in a rage. Blood splashed everywhere, and the once-human body had become shredded beyond recognition.
The nobility, unable to bear the shocking sight, averted their gaze and sighed in resignation.
“She was an… only child, wasn’t she?”
“I don’t know who her mother was, but…”
“From the Emperor’s side again…”
“She’s… trying to keep His Highness in control.”
The aristocrats exchanged whispered thoughts in the chaos, striving to make sense of the sad events happening before them. The party had turned into a dismal display of sadness and dismay.
In response to the terrible events of the New Year’s party, the nobility exchanged hushed murmurs, their lips twitching.
“The Grand Duke has already renounced his imperial power…”
“Didn’t he also swear an oath in front of all the nobles that he would never challenge the throne?”
“This is clearly overkill.”
“When you were still a crown prince, you went out on dangerous battlefields on behalf of Your Majesty, ungratefully…”
With every word spoken, public sentiment shifted in favor of Caelius. “Poor Archduke Wittelsbach. Poor Emperor Azekrisis,” many murmured, their eyes turning to Caelius with sorrow. The once-joyous atmosphere had given way to a solemn meditation on the catastrophe that had unfolded before them.
The Archduke had showed no signs of a desire for power since abdicating the throne. He had heroically fought and risked his life in several conflicts on behalf of his younger brother as a crown prince.
The once-dormant imperial coterie had eagerly awaited the ceremonial introduction of his daughter to society.
Although no one said these opinions overtly, the underlying consensus among the many nobles there mirrored a similar feeling. Only a few Imperialist nobility coughed nervously and exchanged puzzled looks.
He was a battle-hardened warrior one moment and the pitiful King Wittelsbach the next, battling in his younger brother’s place. Those who remembered his martial prowess and courage on the battlefield thought the sudden shift was ludicrous.
Caelius exhaled sharply, scrutinizing the lords as he stood in the midst of the chamberlain’s demise. He spoke with an intensity that served as a sharp warning to those there, while being covered in blood and with tears flowing down his cheeks.
“If you think I’m going to take this lightly, you’re sorely mistaken.”
The imperial physician, who appeared out of nowhere, hurried quickly to deliver the antidote to Aria while also checking on her condition. Caelius grimaced, his anguish evident at the sight.
“How dare you, how dare you, she’s my one and only daughter…” he screamed, his words laced with sadness and rage, reflecting the tremendous betrayal he felt at his precious child’s poisoning.
The firm grasp on his blade revealed the depths of his rage. The aura emanating from him was so charged with malicious intent that it wouldn’t have been shocking if he used the weapon to slaughter all of the aristocrats in the banquet hall at once.
Caelius turned to face Azekrisis in the distance and spoke forcefully.
“I have sworn that I will never, in my lifetime, ascend to the throne again.”
The nobles present took in their breaths at the mention of those two words, realizing the significance of the oath.
The weight of the pronouncement boomed through the hall, leaving a lasting impact on the solemn atmosphere.
“And yet, if my family suffers…”
Caelius pulled the corners of his mouth into a grimace. “I, too, must struggle to survive,” he remarked, the implication clear to the aristocrats.
He shouted up again, this time directly at the emperor, his tone threatening. “I hope it doesn’t come to that, brother.”
Caelius’s foreboding comments brought the room to a halt. Despite the emperor’s direct challenge, no one dared to say anything offensive to the bereaved Archduke Wittelsbach. The tension in the air remained tangible, a testament to the dangerous scenario that had erupted during the New Year’s Eve party.
* * *
She awoke, finding himself beneath the familiar ceiling.
I’m not dead?’
Aria sat up, rubbing her eyes and feeling as if nothing had happened. In fact, she felt better than she had in a long time. A familiar voice burst through her thoughts as she looked around the room in surprise.
“Are you awake?”
It was Caelius. An instinctive shiver coursed down her spine. Once again, he was seated by her bedside, gazing at her.
Caelius remained silent. Aria sensed an unfamiliar touch and pivoted to discover his hand securely holding her right hand. She furrowed her brow, perplexed by his uncharacteristic gesture of clutching his sleeping daughter’s hand.
He appeared somewhat fatigued for reasons unbeknownst to her.
“How are you feeling?”
In response to the monotonous inquiry, Aria, sounding somewhat foolish, replied, “Oh, I’m fine…….”
“Good, better than before you drank?”
He asked his face haunted, wondering how she was aware. Caelius smiled approvingly as she nodded.
“Well, then. Get some more rest, daughter.”
He then let go of her hand and got to his feet. He disappeared from sight as the door closed behind him. A genuine sense of peace seems to have descended. Aria took her time recalling the events, hoping to calm her worried thoughts.
‘I did not die as a result of drinking poisoned champagne as Caelius said.’ But that expression I saw right before collapsing…’
Caelius appeared astonished, as if her collapse had caught him off guard. As a result, his expression changed to one of anger and fury, as if he were about to let out a primal cry. Aria found herself in a state of confusion.
“Did he instruct her to drink it without realizing it was poisoned? Or was that expression on his face feigned…?”
No matter how hard she tried, the truth remained elusive. It became clear that only Caelius himself had the key to understanding his true feelings.
* * *
Caelius had spent the entire day alone in his room on the day of Aria’s awakening. Aria was intrigued, but she refrained from probing. During this time, she concentrated on self-care—eating, sleeping, and regaining his health.
Caelius opened his eyes, previously shut, at the sound of his voice.
He uttered in a low, unusually measured tone, prompting a concerned query from Goshen.
“Don’t you think you’ve used too much energy?”
“…Not that much.”
Caelius shut his eyes again, feeling the dark energy pouring through his body.
“Damn… I didn’t realize that woman’s body was that feeble.”
“That’s a typical human body.”
He scowled at the brief reply.
“Yeah. If everyone’s this weak… it doesn’t make sense for me to live with my head down under my feeble daughter.”
Caelius spit a curse and raked his fingers through his hair in frustration.
“So, have you identified anyone who might be the culprit?”
“Yes, Count Elton seems like a good fit.”
“Very well, then make it Count Elton.”
Caelius closed his eyes briefly before reopening them as the thought occurred to him.
“But how did my daughter know?”
Goshen blinked at the unexpected inquiry.
“She saw the champagne in my hand and shook it as if she’d seen a ghost… and she could see right through it.”
Caelius’ palms punched the desk continuously, tsk, tsk.
“She knew my goblet has poisoned, plain and simple.”
“That’s ridiculous. It was done very covertly, in case the Emperor’s faction noticed…….”
Cold eyes stared into the distance.
“I want you to take care of everyone who knows about this.”
* * *
The story of the Archduchess of Wittelsbach’s attempted assassination had gone viral.
I’m curious if that’s the case.
A letter arrived for Aria.
It was from Aeryn.
“…Isn’t that your mom?”
Aria scratched her head as she opened the letter. It was the first letter she’d gotten since moving into the Wittelsbach mansion. As she unfolded it, she found a New Year’s greeting as well as a note of care for her well-being.
He inquired about her experience at the New Year’s party, asked if she was feeling well, inquired about her enjoyment of life at the palace, and expressed curiosity about whether anyone was bothering her.
She also indicated wanting to give her a coming-of-age gift and showed a desire to help if she was interested in getting married.
Marriage. It was the only way Aria could get away from Caelius. However, no noble dared to oppose Caelius and marry Aria within the empire.
The only reasonable choice appeared to be to look for a marriage abroad. Aeryn must have been aware of this, given the letter went into great depth about foreign unions. Aria paused for a moment to think.
“Yes, even Caelius…”
If I’m going to marry a powerful nobleman from another country, I can’t be hasty.
‘I should ask him to find me a suitable match, just in case. So I can run away at any time.’
In her letter, Aeryn expressed real care for her. She stated that if she were to marry, she would arrange for a dowry. Her mother’s concern rang through in every word she spoke. She reviewed the message several times before pulling out a quill pen. The door flew open without a knock just as she was about to respond.
A familiar voice voice. Caelius was there. In a hurry, she tried to hide Aeryn’s letter, but Caelius was quicker.
“Aeryn sent you a letter…….”
He moved forward, snatching the letter from her hand.
Aria went out for it, startled, but he wouldn’t let go. Caelius frowned as he read Aeryn’s letter.
Aria’s eyes twitched as she read the letter, which clearly hinted at a foreign marriage. Caelius beamed with delight when he finished reading.
“How far do you think Aeryn Rescent will be able to protect her daughter?”
It was an abrupt question, or more accurately, more of a statement than a question.
“I don’t think Aeryn Rescent will be able to get you away from me.”
Aria shouted the words in fury after realizing the implication.
Caelius tilted his head, as if awaiting a response from her. Aria kept her gaze fixed on his toes and murmured softly.
“…I, I, I want to live a long life.”
Live a long life, but please don’t betray me. Your betrayal will fail anyway.
Aria suppressed the words she wanted to express and swallowed hard. Caelius, unaware of her thoughts, smirked down at her.
“So, all you did to live longer was marry outside the country?”
He chuckled mockingly.
“You want to live that long?”
Aria gave a small nod in response to Caelius’ question.
“Then say that again.”
Aria emitted a perplexed sound at the unexpected command.
“Something my daughter used to say.”
A favorite saying. Aria knew the words all too well. She had forced herself to say it the last time, but she didn’t understand why he wanted to hear it. Aria furrowed her brow, and Caelius encouraged her to speak. Finally, Aria reluctantly opened her mouth.
In a soulless voice, she uttered the words he wanted to hear. Caelius then patted her on the shoulder, as if acknowledging her compliance.
“Yes, daughter. If you want to live long, you’ll live longer this way.”
Not comprehending his words, Aria stammered.
“I mean, if you want to marry out of the country, run away, and get torn to pieces before you even cross the border, you’re going to stick by my side and keep that nonsense to yourself.”
Then Caelius’ menacing words resurfaced. Aria hung her head helplessly. He rose to his feet as if to leave the room. In a daze, Aria reached out and grabbed hold of him, as if recalling something.
Then he stopped.
“That day… champagne.”
Caelius turned around, locking eyes with Aria, as if inviting her to ask more.
“…Why did you make me drink it?”
‘Did you know it was poisoned?’
Aria couldn’t vocalize the words she truly wanted to ask. Uncertain about the sincerity of the expression on his face as he collapsed, she felt compelled to inquire.
“And you daughter?”
“Why did you take my cup?”
Aria couldn’t provide an answer. He turned and exited the room, seemingly not anticipating a response. Alone, she cleared her throat awkwardly, suddenly recalling the pain of that day.
* * *
Aria had become notably lethargic after that day. It was more like she had adopted a pessimistic outlook on life.
Tired of observing Caelius, who seemed impervious to change, regardless of her efforts, she now harbored a faint hope that if she concluded her life here, she could somehow return to Korea.
Perhaps, had she not overheard the maids conversing, she might have resigned herself entirely to her life here.
“Is Your Majesty still sleeping?”
“Yes, he’s been in his room for the past few days. Even if he briefly emerges in the middle of the day, he goes to visit the princess…….”
“But is distributing sword qi such a strenuous task?”
Aria, strolling around the garden, overheard a conversation and paused in her steps. At a glance, it seemed to be the voices of the maids engaged in hanging out the laundry.
“I heard that he saved the princess who was on the verge of death, so he must have used a lot of physical strength.”
“My goodness… he is so sweet. He would go to such lengths for a princess.”
“Yes, I was surprised. His Majesty is always smiling, but it doesn’t feel like he’s really smiling, so I always felt some distance between us. Now that I’ve heard about this, I realize that he’s a human being too.”
It was evident from the conversation that it was about Caelius.
Aria stood there, pondering their words.
“Give away sword energy? Sleep for days on end? To hear them tell it, it sounded like Caelius had used his powers to save my life.”
“By the way, I heard they caught the culprit?”
“They say Count Elton ordered it.”
“The horse is Earl Elton, I see, and His Majesty is…….”
“Shhh, dear, watch your tongue.”
Aria’s brow furrowed as she listened. In the original story, they only punished the servant for delivering the champagne and didn’t investigate the real culprit, but now they’ve caught him. Did that mean they were investigating? The more she listened, the more confused she became.
The only difference between the original and now was that I was the one who drank the poison, not Caelius. With a puzzled look on her face, Aria walked away. She unconsciously headed for Caelius’ bedroom.
Standing in front of his bedroom, Aria debated knocking but instead opened the door. Inwardly, it was a timid revenge for his barging into her room so long ago. There was no Gosendo, no maids, no one else in the bedroom. Only Caelius lay on the bed.
Aria walked softly to his side. She caught a glimpse of his slightly disheveled black hair, his beautifully closed eyes, and his handsome, mesmerizing face.
Certainly, it was hard to believe that Caelius was the father of a 17-year-old daughter.
‘No matter how early they got engaged…’
Aria found herself studying his face for a long moment. It was handsome and intriguing to sit still and stare at, but then he pursed his lips.
His voice was so faint that you couldn’t hear it if you weren’t so close. Aria cocked her head slightly.
It was winter, but Caelius’s room was heated with magic stones, so the entire bedroom was toasty. If anything, it was hot, not cold. He was a little puzzled, wondering if it was because the blankets had slipped a little, so he pulled them up to his neck at the base of his chest.
It was at that moment. My outstretched wrist was grabbed by Caelius in the blink of an eye.
I didn’t even have time to scream before it happened. Her vision spun, and her body jerked. When she came to, she was strangled and pinned beneath Caelius.
A raspy cough escaped her throat from the hold. Physiological tears rolled down her cheeks, and as she sobbed and struggled, Caelius, who had regained consciousness, released his grip immediately, a little embarrassed at the sight of Aria on the ground beneath him.
As his hand dropped, Aria let out a long, gagging cough.
“Ahhh… ah, dad, what’s this…….”
Panicked, she opened her mouth to ask what he was doing but then shut it. How dare I complain to him in the first place.
I’m an ant, lucky if I don’t get stepped on.
“What are you doing here without knocking?”
If anything, it was Caelius who was complaining. He looked at Aria in disbelief.
“Well, I just wanted to ask you something…….”
Aria looked at him, still on top of her, and struggled to speak.
“I’m sorry, I’m just a little tired right now.”
Caelius looked different somehow. Instead of his usual smirk, his face was impassive, and his eyes squeezed shut as if he were tired. As if to prove his words weren’t false, the area around his eyes was puffy.
Aria, who had been watching Caelius’s pensive face, asked.
“……Why are you tired?”
Caelius looked at Aria as if he were wondering why she was suddenly asking such a question. He didn’t seem to like the question very much. But Aria questioned him one more time, wondering where his confidence came from.
“……I heard that you saved my life.”
“Why did you do that?”
Caelius let out a small sigh at the fairly blunt question.
“Did you want me to kill you?”
“Oh, no… I didn’t mean that…….”
Aria quickly lowered her gaze. She glanced at him and pursed her lips, wondering if she’d made a mistake. Then Caelius spoke.
“Because I wasn’t planning on killing you yet.”
“I told you, drinking it won’t kill you.”
Once again, he knew the champagne was poisoned and ordered her to drink it. Aria was confused.
If I hadn’t intervened, Caelius would have put his mouth to the champagne himself, knowing it was poisoned. Why? I didn’t understand. As if to wake Aria from her reverie, Caelius murmured, his voice laced with annoyance.
“If you’re done here, I’d like you to leave.”
It was a different tone, a different demeanor than the usual one that kept my true feelings hidden and said only what sounded good.
Aria’s eyes narrowed for a moment at his seeming honesty. His impassive eyes glared at her as if to tell her to get lost.
“You’re not going out?”
It was a look she’d never seen before in her life. Aria looked at Caelius, who was grumbling with a hint of curiosity.
“He’s much easier to deal with this way.”
She wishes he was more honest.
“I don’t want you to be an as$hole, so be honest. Please.”
If he was truthful, the future wouldn’t be so miserable. He raised an eyebrow, sensing she was thinking about me.
She answered, a beat behind the sound of him shouting for me, lost in contemplation. He then murmured and pressed into her.
“I said go out, you don’t want to leave?”
“Why, so we can get in bed together?”
Even a ten-year-old could understand that the rolling around he was talking about was more than just rolling over.
Caelius rubbed his front against Aria’s thigh, his stiff p*nis pushing against the delicate flesh, and Aria squirmed in surprise.
“Go, I’m coming……!”
I had to get away before he crushed her any further. Aria struggled to her feet, trying to get off the bed, but Caelius lightly grabbed her shoulder, as if mocking her.
It threw her out from under him, unable to move.
“You should have gone when I said you would.”
His gaze went over her, his face relaxed.
“He were already standing.”
Aria’s face sank as she realized what he meant by standing.
It puzzled her how this jerk could look at her and stand up without even trying.
Aria pushed herself out carefully, not wanting to offend him.
“Oh, Daddy…… wait.”
Caelius was pushed aside by a tiny hand, and he watched Aria’s actions with amusement.
“I didn’t come here for this…….”
Caelius grinned as she stammered.
“Most people don’t plan s*x.”
“It just happens to be the mood.”
The secretive tone in his voice made her body tense. She then turned to leave, seeing danger in his lingering look.
Caelius, on the other hand, was not about to let her go so simply.
“The sun has changed, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Aria furrowed her brow. It shouldn’t have mattered that they were father and daughter.
Caelius, on the other hand, was blatantly contemptuous of the troubles that came with relationships.
“From what I’ve heard, you’ve been kept in a mansion and never given a proper education…….”
Aria’s cheek was softly caressed in his hand.
“Did you ever get any s*x education?”
The mention of s*x education made Aria shiver.
“That’s one of the basics of nobility.”
She stiffened in surprise. No, when was s*x education a required element of becoming a noble?
Aria pursed her lips, not knowing what to do. Caelius sneered at that.
He took hold of Aria and slumped on top of her. Under his weight, she let out a reflexive whimper.
Caelius buried his face in Aria’s nape of the neck. His jet-black hair piqued her interest.
Aria inquired, perplexed.
There was no reaction. The air in the room was still warm, as was Caelius’ body.
It was a little odd. He must be tired to collapse like this, to lower his charming face.
“Drip, drip, drip.”
He muttered something. “Shiver”. Aria rolled her eyes at his tone as if she were a clown, but I didn’t dare say anything.”
She masked her annoyance by patting him on the back. She sang her a lullaby to put her to sleep.
“Lullaby, lullaby, it’s not my baby…… but Daddy…… lullaby, lullaby, good night…….”
Her voice trembled slightly. Actually, she thinks he told her to shudder instead of singing a lullaby……
Aria’s eyes widened, and she wondered if she’d made the right thing. Caelius, on the other hand, remained silent and closed his eyes.