“His Majesty the Emperor has arrived, Your Majesty the Empress.”
Worried she might visibly flinch, she tensed, restraining herself. Anais didn’t have the courage to look at Rahil. But etiquette demanded acknowledgment, so a royal maid cautiously awaited Anais’s response.
Standing by her side with a frown was Rahil.
“Do you now loathe even the sight of my face?”
Rahil froze as he was about to turn away from Anais in anger. Tears brimmed in Anais’s eyes, and as she blinked, they rolled down her cheeks, shattering his heart into pieces.
Though he thought he had done no wrong, he suddenly felt like a criminal deserving of death. He didn’t know what he had done wrong, but he felt guilty.
But these thoughts remained unspoken, stuck in his throat. Anais slowly moved her arms, pushing away Rahil’s hand that was on her shoulder.
“Oh my, Her Majesty the Empress.”
The flustered maids seemed restless, wanting to redo her makeup. Anais nodded and moved away from Rahil to join them.
Rahil stood rooted to the spot, watching Anais.
‘Why is she crying? What did I do wrong?’
His mind spun in circles. He must have done something wrong, something significant, but he couldn’t figure out what.
He wanted to comfort her, but just looking at his face seemed to make Anais either angry or… on the verge of tears.
This was new for Rahil, and he looked helplessly at Sion and his advisors, who were equally perplexed. Sion’s eyes seemed to ask, ‘What on earth did you do, Your Majesty?’
‘I don’t know! I really don’t!’
Rahil felt like crying too.
For Anais, this was a moment of great embarrassment. She was shocked to realize that her dream might reveal her true feelings and was horrified at the thought that she might actually like him.
Before the dream, she had merely considered him an annoying husband of convenience.
‘I couldn’t help it when our eyes met.’
She felt ashamed for crying even though she wasn’t a child, a rare moment of humiliation in her life. The maids used a potion to reduce the swelling around her eyes, even from such brief tears.
“Uhm… It’s time for you to make an entrance, shall we delay?”
A servant hesitantly spoke up. Rahil kept looking at the back of Anais’s head, and she steadied her heart with her hand on her chest.
She turned to Rahil with a composed face, though she seemed reluctant to look directly at him.
Rahil had a mountain of questions, including why she cried and why she was angry earlier, but he dared not ask. What if it made Anais cry again?
‘I must have done something wrong.’
Moreover, it was their wedding day. He had made the bride cry on their wedding day.
‘I’m already a bad guy.’
The marriage wasn’t her choice, nor was he the groom she wanted. And now, he had made her cry on the wedding day….
‘Will I be beheaded by Marquis Ruol for this?’
Feeling guilt weigh heavily on him, he stood beside Anais. When he cautiously offered his arm, Anais gently placed her hand on it. Her slender, white fingers were beautiful down to the tips of her nails.
‘If it weren’t for me, she could have been loved by someone else.’
The thought pained him, yet Rahil still believed Anais was his true Empress.
The music echoing down the hall scattered his thoughts. Anais was already leading the way, arm in arm with him.
She looked straight ahead, and Rahil looked at her.
‘I’ll make you happy.’
Even though you might not believe me, even if you accuse me of being a hypocrite and a liar, I’ll make sure to truly make you happy…
Rahil sincerely wished she would stay by his side.
* * *
As the announcement of the Emperor and Empress’s arrival echoed, the commotion in the ballroom subsided. The nobles lined up and bowed as they saw the royal couple’s entrance.
Just a few months ago, Anais had been in situations where she needed to bow her head alongside others. Now, as she looked at them, she felt a bit alienated.
She had become the Empress.
She had felt it riding through the capital with the Emperor, a feeling that had now expanded a bit more. Yet, it still didn’t feel entirely real.
Heavy responsibilities and duties would follow. She had to use her wits to prevent the weakening of the royal authority and to balance maintaining a check on the nobles while supporting equitable development.
She didn’t expect Rahil and Angelica to handle things wisely. It was always easier to deal with situations by preparing for the worst. Anais knew there were people who prioritized their feelings and emotions over what was beneficial.
She had always kept her distance from such characters.
Anais held Rahil’s arm and proceeded with him to the high seats. The music played majestically, yet she felt she could hear even a button dropping.
Rahil stood with an arrogant expression, looking over the nobles filling the ballroom.
“You may all raise your heads.”
As everyone straightened up, the rustling of their clothes sounded heavy. Anais turned her gaze away as the Emperor began his speech to mark the occasion.
Her family and those closely related to the royal family were positioned nearby. She found it ironic that, after several civil wars, only a few Duke families survived, while only two Marquis families remained.
People from the Noer Duchy seemed to shrink under her gaze, while those from the Odessa Duchy family nodded with friendly faces. Spotting her father, Marquis Ruol, and Francis, she smiled and moved her eyes, then spotted Duke Calix and his wife.
The Duke politely nodded, and so did his wife. Anais didn’t linger her gaze on them, as if they were people she preferred not to think deeply about.
What was the use, anyway? The Emperor would do as he pleased. Forcing him to stop would only breed resentment. Those in power ultimately acted as they wished.