Chapter 1 – Part 5
The first to open their eyes in the morning was Leonard.
It was well past his usual wake-up time.
The attendants, who should have woken him before dawn, had not even entered the room until sunlight spilled into the chamber.
It was a considerate gesture for the newlywed couple on their first night.
However, regardless of that, Leonard needed to return to his official duties right from that day.
“It’s been a while since I’ve slept well.”
He’d been exhausted due to the wedding preparations and celebrations. Sleeping in felt like a relief from all that fatigue.
He considered getting up but looked over to find a peacefully sleeping face beside him.
She had been someone with minimal interaction. While Alaina and others mentioned her occasionally, she was a fleeting presence.
Though intrigued by the fact that she caught nothing during the hunt, she was merely that and nothing more.
Even Tenere seemed disinterested in him.
So, when she approached him at the party, it was a bit surprising.
Though Alaina’s close friends, including Janice Deferac, conversed with her, he couldn’t overhear them.
“…They say Empress should be chosen from older men, not young ladies.”
The discontented voice arrived much later. The murmurs of the young ladies grew a little louder.
“Our father has put on a lot of weight lately…”
“And Lord Deferac looks charming in the red dress…”
The young ladies discussed transforming their fathers into an Empress.
Leonard, while trying to engage in a conversation with Laura Hale who persistently approached him, listened to their chatter.
“…It seems no one considers my side.”
Though he laughed, he couldn’t help but consider the situation of those tormented by their fathers.
But beyond understanding them, the voices were growing louder, demanding attention.
Leonard turned his head, intending to intervene and change the topic.
A laugh from a quiet person caught his eye.
For some reason, that laugh drew his attention. He involuntarily addressed her in that mild confusion.
And as her laughter gradually subsided, her light purple eyes, still reflecting amusement, made him feel a bit flustered, not knowing what to say.
And then, the words that popped out at that moment were…
“If you don’t mind, how about a dance?
All because of that laughter.
His unexpected suggestion left Tenere bewildered, but she soon took his hand without hesitation.
As the moment to choose an empress was at hand, Leonard observed the young lady throughout the dance.
Though tensed, her dancing was not too shabby, and in conversation, she seemed adequately skilled. Her family seemed neither too large nor too small.
In short, she wasn’t a bad candidate for an empress.
“…Anyway, it doesn’t matter who it is, does it…”
He thought, “As long as it’s not Alaina Salvatore, it doesn’t matter who.”
It was almost time to attend to official matters, yet Leonard gazed at her as she slept soundly.
Leaving without a morning greeting felt discomforting.
Her face was calm and unworried, quite different from when awake.
Observing her steady breaths, he pulled the covers over her, causing her soft brown lashes to flutter slightly.
Tenere hesitantly spoke. Her drowsy eyes widened a bit in surprise and then blinked several times, seemingly trying to wake up.
Leonard lightly patted her shoulder.
“Did I wake you? You must be tired. Rest a bit more.”
“Ah…no. Your Majesty, I…”
Tenere tried to sit up, or at least seem like she was, furrowing her brow, gently tapping her waist with the hand not on the bed.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes. I’m fine.”
With an awkward smile, Tenere covered herself with the covers and sat up.
“Are you going directly to your duties?”
“Yes. You’ll start learning your duties next week, so you can sleep more. If there’s anything you need, tell the chamberlain.”
Tenere slowly nodded. Whether it was her love of sleeping in or due to the previous day’s revelry, sleep clung to her face.
Her appearance, so different from her usual composed self, was oddly amusing.
“By the way, Empress.”
“Is there anything you’d like as a wedding present?”
Honestly, it was quite an awkward question. Typically, wedding gifts are prepared based on the recipient’s preferences.
Asking what someone wants as a wedding gift implies, ‘I have no idea about your taste.’
“I don’t know much about you yet, so I’ll prepare whatever you want.”
“Ah, I see.”
Tenere’s eyes softened.
“Whatever it is… I’ll gladly accept it.”
“What did Marquis Evan usually give you as gifts?”
Because directly asking for something felt awkward, Leonard subtly inquired.
The slow-blinking eyes paused. Tenere seemed slightly flustered, briefly glanced elsewhere, then lightly pursed her lips.
“He’s always been so generous to me…… that I’ve never needed a special gift.”
Leonard didn’t immediately understand the meaning.
Most nobles are like that. Gifts are not given because they are needed.
“…Are you saying you’ve never received a gift from Marquis Evan?”
Tenere remained silent for a while. Her bird-like eyes seemed to search for an excuse in her father’s hesitancy.
“I apologize. My father has been busy, and it’s been difficult for him to find the time, and I’m afraid a wedding gift would be an unnecessary burden on your Majesty, who is also busy with his own affairs, but…… I would be happy to accept anything from your”
Tenere seemed to realize that it would be a disgrace to the imperial family if the emperor did not give his empress a wedding gift.
Leonhard stared at the downcast eyes for a long moment.
She had that exact expression in the hunting grounds. The way she fidgeted with her clasped hands was the same as back then.
It’s not that she had no response. Even the busiest magnate in the Empire would personally arrange a birthday gift for his daughter, or have the butler deliver it if he couldn’t make time.
The excuse of being too busy was truly unreasonable.
However, that didn’t mean he could do anything about it.
Wasn’t it a bit absurd to be punished for forgetting a daughter’s birthday? Besides, it wasn’t something the person in question was asking for.
After a brief consideration, Leonard, as usual, smiled.
“Well, then, since you said you found some fine jewelry in Joel’s kingdom, I’ll have you make a necklace.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.”
“I’ll come again on the next scheduled visit. Rest well.”
Leonard rose slowly. Tenere, too, stood and saw him off.
After leaving the Empress’s chamber, Leonard tidied himself and headed straight to his study.
The impeccably tidy study bore the strict marks of the former emperor.
Shelves brimming with documents and books were neatly arranged without a single displacement, and the desk, used for quite a while, remained pristine without a single ink stain.
Despite being busy with wedding preparations, it wasn’t too difficult to handle things afterward, thanks to competent aides.
Leonard carefully examined the thicker stack of documents than usual.
“My father was busy, so finding time was difficult.”
His eyes, scanning the writing, paused. It was due to the emergence of very trivial things.
The composed voice, eyes not meeting directly, the bird-like gaze, the casual demeanor, and the fidgety little hands.
Leonard, with a slightly narrowed brow, spoke up.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
The aide raised his head. Leonard, signing at the bottom of the documents, casually spoke as he passed by.
“The Empress.. No, never mind.”
Leonard didn’t finish his sentence and shook his head. It was an unnecessary intrusion.
What was important was not how the Empress had been living with Marquis Evan. Besides, it wasn’t something she was requesting.
The aide tilted his head, returning to the task at hand. Leonard chuckled, adjusted his collar, and picked up a biscuit.
The biscuit he nibbled on in place of breakfast didn’t have a special taste. Leonard turned over the documents, thinking
‘Still, it’s our first day… Perhaps…’
Softened memories came to mind.
‘Maybe we should have eaten …… breakfast together.’
As he idly pondered, he quickly resumed browsing the paperwork.
The biscuits still didn’t taste right.
* * *
Not long after the Emperor left the room, the chambermaids brought tea and breakfast.
Tenere ate her breakfast alone and took the medicine provided by the palace.
It felt unfamiliar, perhaps due to the unfamiliar tasks she had undertaken. While having to accustom oneself to a wedding might sound absurd.
“Don’t expect love...”
Tenere muttered softly.
The Emperor had been kind and courteous throughout the time they were together on their first night, despite saying he wouldn’t give her love. His attitude didn’t seem to suggest he intended to mistreat her.
“He liked Salvatore, didn’t he…?”
It’s not hard to understand the depth of his feelings, since he didn’t take the Empress in until a year after Alaina’s sudden disappearance.
Moreover, whatever kind of person Salvatore was.
Unlike herself, who had arrived at this position unexpectedly, wasn’t she someone who had been preparing to become Empress since childhood?
Tenere took a deep breath and opened a book. She flipped through the pages slowly, but the words didn’t register in her mind.
“Salvatore would have certainly been a good match…”
“Pull yourself together. You’re probably comparing yourself even in the simple act of breathing.”
Her father words repeatedly pricked at her heart.
Although it was a much larger and more beautiful room than the Marquis’s mansion, everything felt unfamiliar and unsuitable.
At the sound of the knock, Tenere closed the book she was reading and looked up. It was none other than the chambermaids entering the room.
“I heard there’s no schedule for today…”
As Tenere raised her head in surprise, the chamberlain inclined hers.
“Her Majesty wishes to inquire if the Empress can join her for lunch.”
“The Dowager Empress?”
“Yes. Please feel free to respond.”
Though the chambermaids maintained their formal manners, the newly appointed Empress couldn’t possibly refuse an invitation from the Dowager Empress herself. Tenere slowly nodded her head.
“Please help me dress up.”
The chambermaids promptly and dutifully began to help Tenere dress.
While being attended to by the chambermaids, Tenere harbored an uneasy expression.
“She must have been very fond of Lady Alaina”
Would she despise her for being much less than Alaina? Would she find her presence in Alaina’s place contemptible?
Many fears loomed, but Tenere remained silent.
She was alone in this vast palace, and there was no one to rely on