Chapter 1 – Part 4
Both the engagement and the marriage proceeded at a fairly rapid pace, as everything was already in place except the bride.
Several gifts had been sent from the palace for the new prospective empress.
However, the Marquis considered it insufficient and took Tenere out to buy expensive jewelry and dresses.
“You are to become the future empress. Therefore, you must wear things befitting your status.”
He behaved as if he were trying to conceal a flawed gift with extravagant wrapping. He aimed to adorn her more splendidly and beautifully.
However, the more splendor he added, the more Tenere seemed comically overdressed.
With overly puffed sleeves, a hat adorned with all sorts of flowers and jewels, and a rich dress festooned with frills and ribbons, she looked overwhelmed.
“You truly… lack the dignity befitting an empress.”
The Marquis glanced disapprovingly at Tenere. An uneasy Eric stepped in.
“Perhaps Her Majesty’s taste… leans towards simplicity?”
“But she put on such expensive things, and it looks like this…”
The Marquis, as if begrudgingly eating a meal of roasted veal and smoked salmon, and lemon tart prepared by the best chefs, reluctantly stifled his desires. He also expressed regret that it would have suited Alaina much better.
“Be grateful to His Imperial Majesty for choosing someone like you. And make sure to look good for His Imperial Majesty and Her Majesty the Dowager Empress. I don’t expect you to win the hearts of the two, but at least try not to be unpleasant.”
The Marquis reiterated this several times. Tenere knew it was because of his anxiety.
Perhaps in fear that the vanished Alaina might return and once again covet the position of empress. Or perhaps that his fragile, unassuming daughter might be usurped from that position.
Until the day of the wedding, Tenere had to endure the Marquis’s lectures.
If it weren’t for Eric’s remark that it might be a problem if other people saw her body with bruises, she would have probably suffered until the moment she stepped into the aisle.”
At first glance, Tenere seemed unaffected. Her calm face, her quiet gait, and the way she embroidered in her room whenever she could, were all the same as before.
Eric remarked, seemingly intrigued, as he observed her, “You’re quite swift. Aren’t you even nervous?”
“I am nervous.”
“Your face doesn’t show it.”
“I’m not lying, I’m really nervous.”
Tenere said with a smile. Her fingers were still delicate and calm as she knotted the thread.
“I’m always grateful to you, brother.”
Eric’s expression subtly changed at her gentle voice.
“What foolish things are you saying again? After being called stupid so many times, have you truly become one?’
“You’ve helped me every time.”
Tenere knew that every time trouble brewed, Eric pretended to side with thier father while distancing him from her.
He also stopped our father from almost killing her with an excuse that she can still be useful if sold in the marriage mart
He was not a kind or affectionate brother, but if it had not been for him, the angry Marquis would have been harder to bear.
“I meant …… half of it. I meant it when I said you were stupid. Your actions frustrate me.”
“Thank you for worrying about me.”
“Do you listen to me through your nostrils? You should be able to stand up for yourself at times like this.”
“……I’ll stop talking.”
Eric shook his head in frustration. Tenere silently laughed seeing his reaction, maintaining her innocent face, while Eric stiffened his expression.
“When you enter the palace, you need to stop being naive”
“You know what kind of person Laura Hale was. Don’t you remember the way she glared at you the first time you danced with the King at the ball?”
Though Laura Hale’s face crossed her mind, Tenere remained silent, allowing silence to fall in the room.
“Get yourself together. People will surely compare you to Lady Salvatore just to belittle you.”
Alaina, who had been learning state affairs from a young age by entering the palace, was far more capable than Tenere, who only read books and sewed in her room while waiting for the fiancé her father chose for her.
“I can’t help it, they are not wrong.”
“ Are you deliberately trying to make me angry?”
Eric irritably furrowed his brow. Regardless, Tenere’s expression remained calm.
Eric’s gaze fell on the hand holding the needle, noticing small swollen red marks on her long fingers.
Tenere quickly hid her hand, apologizing.
Eric seemed like he wanted to say something but ultimately remained silent.
The grandiose sound of music felt like a weight on her shoulders.
Tenere cautiously shifted her feet. Her vision was blurred by the veil covering her face.
However, she could distinctly sense the attention people directed towards her.
It was the day when the Empress’s position, vacant for a year since Crown Prince Leonard’s ascension, would be filled.
The nobles of the empire gathered to witness this spectacle. Originally, Tenere was supposed to be just another guest among them.
Walking on the red carpet didn’t feel real.
The fact that she was heading straight towards the Emperor’s side.
“Don’t behave foolishly.”
“Don’t disgrace the Evan House.”
Tenner realized belatedly that she was tightly gripping her father’s garment at the sound of the cold voice.
Her hand relaxed from its grip. The fingertip pricked by the needle stung belatedly.
As always, Tenere spoke calmly and respectfully. With every step, the hem of her dress softly brushed the floor.
In the center of the carpet, the Emperor awaited her.
Well-groomed black hair caught the crimson hues from the chandelier’s light.
In contrast to the bride’s dress, the black ceremonial attire exuded an austere and appealing presence.
“Take care of my inadequate daughter well, Your Majesty.”
The Marquis bowed his head to the young Emperor. It was more submissive than respectful.
He knew she was merely a replacement for Alaina Salvatore, known as the prospective Empress.
The Emperor wordlessly extended his arm to Tenere. She, trying not to tremble, placed her hand on his.
The Emperor’s arm was unexpectedly thick and sturdy, but that was all.
She didn’t know if his strength would threaten or protect her.
“Don’t be too nervous.”
The Emperor’s voice reached her. It was surprisingly gentle.
Worried that she might have inadvertently squeezed his arm too tightly, Tenere relaxed her grip.
“…I apologize, Your Majesty.”
It was a faint voice, almost inaudible, yet the Emperor didn’t inquire. He simply enclosed her gloved hand with his large one.
Surprised by the unexpected contact, Tenere was taken aback, but she wasn’t strong enough to push the Emperor away.
Fortunately, the Emperor patted the back of Tenere’s hand a few times and then withdrew his hand.
With the uncomfortable warmth gone, Tenere was suddenly a little relieved.
The wedding was a whirlwind. The details of both the ceremony and the reception were hazy at best. Tenere sat heavily on the bed.
After a luxurious bath and a thoughtful massage, her tired body felt languid, but her mind, contrary to her body, remained sharply tense.
Because… it was their wedding night.
She knew the obligation to bear an heir.
As the Empress of this Kingdom, she had to bear a healthy child to inherit the throne. A child of the Emperor. A child of the person she was once engaged to, Alairna Salvatore.
“Your Majesty, the Emperor is here.”
A maid entered the room, bowing her head. Tenere rose from her seat to greet the Emperor, straightening her attire.
The maid cautiously examined her appearance and inquired if she was ready. Tenere nodded slightly.
The door opened, casting a fan-shaped light into the dim room. And within that light, the Emperor stepped in slowly.
It had been a title she’d heard countless times since the wedding ceremony.
Now, it seemed there would be more days she’d be called Empress than her actual name, which felt somewhat daunting.
Tenere slowly bowed in greeting. The Emperor placed the silver candlestick he was holding on a nearby stand.
“No need to rise. I imagine the ceremonies must have been exhausting.”
The change after the wedding wasn’t just in titles. Tenere found it awkward and unfamiliar that the Emperor was showing her such respect.
As she settled on the edge of the bed, the Emperor offered her a goblet of fruit wine from the table.
Tenere accepted the cup, but her hand, tense from nervousness, held it firmly.
“Is there something I should know as the Empress…?”
‘Empress.’ Even uttering the word made her feel like she was appropriating something that wasn’t hers.
The Emperor, observing her discomfort, brought the cup to his lips. It trembled slightly.
“If it pertains to your duties, my mother will instruct you. However…”
The Emperor paused. A smile, similar to that during the wedding, graced his lips. A familiar yet strange smile.
“Do you know why I chose you to be the Empress?”
Although she was a daughter of a Marquis, she was still raised by a foster mother. Moreover, her birth mother had fled back to the forest, leaving her essentially as good as an abandoned child.
Why would he choose her out of many possible perfect choices to sit as Empress?
“I don’t understand. I have no mother”
The Emperor cut in.
“You are Marquis Evan’s daughter, aren’t you?”
But half of me is from my mother…
Tenere simply looked down, saying nothing.
“Your maternal origins do not concern your position as Empress.”
“I desired someone without ambition.”
Tenere raised her head at his calm voice. When their eyes met, the Emperor smiled faintly. It was a habitual, kind smile.
Tenere pondered his words quietly.
“Are you saying… not to desire love?”
The Emperor nodded silently. Tenere was taken aback but not hurt. It would be foolish to expect love from a strategic marriage, especially in her situation, replacing a vanished fiancé.
It was almost odd to reiterate what should have been obvious.
“Is that all… you ask of me?”
“Can you promise that?”
It was still a tender request. A ruler without the desire for love, an Empress who doesn’t seek the Emperor’s love.
As she never anticipated a married life filled with love, it wasn’t difficult for her to oblige his wish.
Tenere smiled gently. The Emperor seemed relieved at her easy compliance.
His hand slowly cupped her cheek.
“Thank you, Empress.”
The affectionate voice tickled her ear. Tenere closed her eyes slowly.
Love wasn’t necessary in their kiss. Nor was it required in the long nights.