Wow, I don’t think even the author recognizes the full extent of the Emperor’s ego.
Otherwise, why would he think of trying to cling to the Empress as a last-effort attempt as soon as I refused?
Any normal person who had even the slightest shame wouldn’t do what he did.
Fortunately, the Empress appeared to think the same way.
She rejected the offer without batting an eyelid.
“Sorry, Your Majesty. I’m not feeling well.”
“You’re not feeling well?”
The Emperor’s face hardened slightly at her refusal.
The Empress couldn’t be blamed.
‘Well, there’s nothing he can say.’
After all, didn’t the Emperor first show discourtesy by acting the way he did?
Soon, the Empress smiled softly.
“I have a better idea than that.”
“Enlighten me; what could be better?”
“If Your Majesty permits it, the rights to the inaugural dance should be granted to someone else…
Glancing to the side, the Empress concluded what she had in mind with a soft-spoken voice.
“I’d like to make concessions to the Crown Prince and his fiancee, who stabilized circumstances in the South.”
Her suggestion was rife with many hidden implications.
First, making the Emperor’s apathy toward Lebane, the responsibility of the Imperial family, clear for all to see.
Second, highlighting mine and Damian’s merits for having saved Lebane.
‘Should the rights to the first dance be conceded to us, the original intent of this ball would be altered.’
The ball would then mark a celebration of Damian and my accomplishments in the South.
It randomly occurred to me that the Emperor constantly made a fuss about the inaugural dance and never got anything of equal value in return.
He acted similarly in the past during Damian’s victory ball, only this time, he tried interfering with me for no reason.
He never learns from his mistakes.
I covertly glanced at the Emperor.
The Emperor couldn’t straighten out his furrowed brow.
Simultaneously, the Empress Dowager, having quietly observed the situation, assisted by encouraging the idea.
“I think it’s a great proposal. I’ve really wanted to see the two of them dance.”
“The Crown Prince and Lady Charlize protected my hometown.”
Tears glimmered faintly around Her Majesty’s wrinkled eyes.
“I couldn’t grant them a proper thank you, but I’d like for their feat to be recognized.”
“If my mother pleads so earnestly, how could I refuse?”
The Empress Dowager’s sincere voice left the Emperor with a bitter expression.
Trapped in a situation where all eyes were on them, to refuse his mother even when she begged him earnestly…
‘It would make him look petty.’
Above all, the Emperor had turned away from Lebane.
Eventually, the Emperor was force to nod reluctantly.
“Very well, let’s begin the first dance of the day with the Crown Prince and Lady Charlize.”
“I appreciate it, Your Majesty.”
I humbly thanked him.
Damian reached out to me.
Holding hands, we headed to the dance hall.
“How did we end up doing the inaugural dance…”
Damian muttered in a bewildered voice and then proceeded to ask how I was holding up.
“How do you feel, nervous?”
“I’m fine, actually feeling better.”
Since I had danced before at the victory ball, I wasn’t as anxious as last time.
But most of all, didn’t I just thwart the Emperor?
Hehe, I feel quite diabolical.
As I struggled to conceal my sinister smile, Damian took notice.
“You look quite devious right now.”
“And what of His Highness?”
I snapped back.
Damian shared the same sinister smile I did.
The corners of his lips were raised upward.
“To be honest, I feel good. What more can I want?”
Truly, there’s nothing more satisfying than thwarting the Emperor.
As I and Damian stood facing each other, the music started playing.
It was a lively waltz, conveniently reflecting our happy mood.
Cheerful music rang out.
Under the colorful chandelier light, a man and a woman danced with butterfly-like grace.
It was a sight for sore eyes.
However, there was one person who didn’t take kindly to the spectacle.
The unpleasant sight made the Emperor’s stomach churn and twist.
‘How arrogant of you Charlize…’
A girl who looks me defiantly in the eyes and doesn’t shy away from talking back.
Normally, I would have responded in kind.
‘She’s worth putting up with.’
A slanted smile crept onto the Emperor’s lips.
A woman who’s awakened the power of the divine beast—who would be so foolish to turn down such a prize?
If he could somehow get his hands on Charlize, it would make up for his acute legitimacy.
‘So I’ll play nice and tolerate that level of impudence from her. But…’
She must never be crowned as the Crown Princess.
In fact, I should have never accepted that marriage proposal made by the prince in the first place.
‘But who could have known that a girl would manifest the power.’
Licking his lips with regret, the more the Emperor thought about it, the more he lamented.
The Emperor clicked his tongue as he glared at the Empress.
His gaze was met by the Empress’s characteristically expressionless face.
Their relationship has, of late, teetered on the brink of collapse.
However, in the Emperor’s eyes, it was all her fault.
Since she didn’t know her place and turned her nose up at all he graced her with, how could they have ever gotten along?
She was a shameless woman in every sense of the word, made worse by her inability to conceive.
‘I can’t lose Rochester’s’ power and I can’t depose the Empress…’
The same sentiment rang true for the Empress’s brother, the Duke of Rochester.
How the Emperor hated seeing the Duke find fault in every move he made.
That Duke should be grateful that he, as emperor allowed him to exercise his rights as a member of a meritorious family!
As for the issue related to Lebane—providing supplies to the city of Lebane without consulting me first…
They know nothing but shame and disgrace!
The Emperor let out a quick sigh as his gaze sharpened.
‘In short, I need to make that girl mine as soon as possible.’
A mistress or something, anything will do to whisk that girl away from the Crown Prince as quickly as possible.
Besides, isn’t Damian inexperienced in these things?
Viewing her as a woman, it was clear that she would be much more attractive because of her age and status.
‘Until the day I have Charlize, I’ll enjoy this game of cat and mouse. Her resistance is quite adorable even.’
The Emperor’s smile grew a little wider.
“Well, it’s not my preference to remain for long at a ball where I’m not in the limelight.”
With Charlize’s figure as his last sight, the Emperor quickly turned around.
He was leaving.
The dance was finally over.
Damian was swarmed by nobles.
“You’re absolutely amazing, Your Majesty, the Crown Prince!”
“Your performance in Lebane was outstanding!”
Everyone tried to get a hold of the Crown Prince, showering him with praises for his most recent accomplishment.
Normally, I would have watched from the sidelines, but things this time were slightly different.
Noble ladies flocked to me.
‘Ah, what a surprise!’
I reflexively took a step back.
It didn’t matter; every lady was eager to talk to me.
“Lady Charlize, I heard that you gave a blessing at the harvest festival this time?”
“They say that you’re called the Saintess of the South, that’s incredible!”
“When will we see the blessing of the divine beast?”
It was a completely different attitude compared to before when noblewomen were reluctant to even speak with me.
I’ve also noticed how animated their eyes are when they speak with me.
Um, I’m a bit embarrassed by all this attention.
These people weren’t always so friendly, right?
My position so far is that of a woman who’s had her status raised by accident and managed to impress her superiors in the Imperial palace…
Then, Sienna came to my rescue in the nick of time.
When Sienna and I casually called each other, the noble ladies gathered around me again with eyes sparkling.
“Lady Charlize and Countess Antès seem to have a pretty close relationship.”
“The heroine who saved the north and the saintess who saved the south sound good together, don’t they?”
Wow, now I’m dying of embarrassment…
What’s with all this blatant adulation? It’s unbearable.
My whole body cringed.
Hold on, something’s off.
‘Shouldn’t Lady Bennett at some point, come to patronize me?’
I glanced behind me with a sidelong glance.
Lady Bennet stood alone in the back, out of sight, biting her lip.
….Is she all right?
Are her lips bleeding?
It’s not that I don’t understand what she’s feeling…
It was the fact that Lady Bennet was noticeably different from before. She’s like someone else altogether.’
I felt strangely uneasy.
The old Lady Bennett popped into my mind.
Once, she was a ‘relative of the empress.’ She wore that title like a crown and reigned like an empress in the social world.
That look she used to have is gone, now all that remains is a dilapidated look about her.
All of the noble ladies who usually followed her around had disappeared.
Seeing that no one asked Lady Bennett to dance, the noble ladies around me giggled softly.
“Oh, my. Don’t tell me she’s become a wallflower. Why is she so quiet?”
“She used to act so haughtily..”
“Wasn’t she mean to Lady Charlize?”
“Oh, she was, wasn’t she! Well, this is what justice looks like, right?”
The laughter coming from the noble ladies grew slightly louder.