Chapter 1- Part 6
The Star Palace where the Empress Beatrice resided was situated inside the Imperial Palace.
Amidst the dark gray towers of the Imperial Palace, the Star Palace, with its radiant roofs, stood out.
It had been built by Leonard’s grandfather, Edwin, for his empress from another country who was homesick.
Perhaps due to its red roofs or the splendid rose garden surrounding it, the Star Palace was nicknamed the Rose Palace.
However, this symbol of profound affection towards the Empress was never given to Beatrice during the late Emperor’s reign.
Only after his father’s passing did Emperor Leonard have the vast estate and gardens restored for his mother, and since then, Beatrice had been residing in the Star Palace.
“You Majesty, the Empress, is waiting for you.”
Upon the Countess’s words, Beatrice set the needle down and rose from her seat. She pressed her closed eyelids with her hands and smiled faintly at the Countess.
“I told you not to strain yourself.”
“I guess I just haven’t been able to. Once you start, you’ll lose track of time…….”
The Emperor did not allow Beatrice to pick up the needle. He accepted her handkerchief, which he had embroidered herself, but when he finally made her empress, he said in a voice that could not have been colder.
“It is not the Empress’s place to sit idle and embroider.”
Only after the Emperor’s passing did she tentatively pick up the needle again, but her skills were no longer as sharp as they used to be.
“The new empress seems to enjoy sewing. It might be good to accompany her occasionally from now on”
“My hands might have stiffened from missing the touch after a long time. I saw the handkerchief she gifted to His Majesty. Her skills are exceptional.”
Beatrice smiled bitterly. It had been a year since the Emperor’s death, and she was becoming indifferent. However, the sorrow lingered in her heart.
“…If he were alive, I might have had someone to resent. Leaving without proving yourself properly was indeed cruel.”
The person who had made her feel lonely, hurt, and guilty was gone.
Thinking of that indifferent face, Beatrice moved slowly.
The new Empress awaited the Dowager in the audience room.
Sitting quietly, she quickly rose when Beatrice appeared, bowing politely.
“I greet the Dowager Empress.”
Although Tenere’s lips carried a serene smile, Beatrice could sense the underlying tension in her smile. She smiled affectionately.
“It’s kind of you to come so soon, despite the lingering fatigue.”
“Not at all. I’m pleased that the Dowager sought me out.”
Tenere responded politely. Beatrice guided her to the dining room.
As Beatrice and Tenere sat across from each other, the attendants placed food on the table. The salad topped with prosciutto, drizzled with a fresh dressing, was appealing.
“I’m concerned the food might not suit the Empress’s taste, as I’m not well-acquainted with it. If anything makes you uncomfortable, please do not hesitate to speak up.”
Despite Beatrice’s words, the array of dishes catered well to Tenere’s palate.
There were no sneers or signs of displeasure. Expecting to be disliked in Alaina’s stead, Tenere was more than grateful for the beyond-expected kindness.
Beatrice smoothly brought up casual topics.
Conversations about the weather, attire, flowers, food, and art. With lighter subjects at hand, Tenere seemed to relax a bit, shedding some of her initial tension.
“Is there anyone you’d like to bring from the Marquisate, a nanny, perhaps, or a maid with whom you had a special…… relationship? It might be suitable to bring someone unfamiliar into this place.”
At the kind suggestion, Tenere halted her fork mid-air involuntarily.
“I apologize. My nanny went home on vacation four years ago and died there because of plague.”
Mentioning that she didn’t have a dedicated maid would have been a slap in the face to her father, so Tenere stuck to the story of the dead nanny.
While the maid hadn’t been particularly kind to her, it was a needless tale to recount.
The serene voice made the Dowager Empress’s hand pause as well.
Her lips twitched slightly.
“…you must have felt lonely.”
At those words, Tenere lifted her head. Beatrice was looking at her, no hint of malice in her downcast eyes.
Was she lonely, then?
She didn’t feel any particularly fresh emotions about the familiar routines. After all, no matter what she felt, there was nothing she could do about it.
Her pale lavender eyes gently curved. It was a familiar smile to Beatrice.
“Tasha left for the forest about fifteen years ago.”
Her words widened Tenere’s hazy eyes. She looked up, surprised.
“Do you… know my mother?”
“I knew her. She was such a beautiful person.”
Tenere had never properly heard stories about her mother. Evan, her father, had always been irritated when she brought up her mother.
The only time she could hear about her mother was when it irked her father.
“She couldn’t adapt to court life.”
Her mother, raised in the forest, couldn’t adapt to the grand and dazzling court. Tenere vaguely remembered the clashes between Evan and her mother during her very young years.
Her mother refusing to go to parties and her father coaxing her to do so.
“Do you see me as a person?”
“I’m not just your decoration!”
Her mother’s outbursts only became clear to her much later in life. How much her mother must have struggled in the mansion’s life.
“Did you hate Tasha?”
Beatrice asked. Tenere shook her head.
During her ignorant childhood, she had resented her mother for leaving her, but now she understood her well enough.
No, she was just a little bit…… envious that she had a place to go back to.
“I believe my mother had her reasons. Since she’s already gone… I can only wish her happiness.”
Tenere understood and smiled out of habit. Hatred, loneliness, and sorrow were all just like passing seasons.
Now, it was too late to turn back. She had grown too much.
“…I entered the palace at the age of twenty.”
The Dowager Empress spoke quietly.
“Growing up in the Marquis’s mansion, there was little difference between us and the royal family in terms of what we wore and ate. Even the servants in the palace had dignity. Nevertheless, it was hard to adapt here for a while.”
Until the embroidered handkerchief was accepted, until the marriage proposal from the Marquis Trabel’s estate arrived, Beatrice felt like she had everything in the world.
But the Emperor didn’t even give her a smile, let alone love her as an Empress.
The frail Empress, whom the Emperor had kept out of his sight, was nothing more than a prey in high society. Grown like a single flower, she had to become strong on her own.
“Perhaps Tasha might have been in a similar situation. She didn’t grow up in a provincial estate but in the forest. Though I was there for her, she might not have had someone to share her heart with.”
Beatrice’s words sounded like a comforting gesture to Tenere.
Comfort for her mother’s departure and for arriving alone at the palace.
Such words were unfamiliar to Tenere. Affection and warmth were so foreign that they were hard to digest.
As Tenere turned away, the Dowager Empress smiled gently.
“Being suddenly brought to the palace as an Empress must be difficult, but I’ll be by your side. Please don’t worry too much.”
“If the Empress fits in well, I’ll be able to spend the rest of my life in peace, It’s all just make things easier.”
The playful glint in her eyes was strikingly similar to her son, Leonard.
Tenere nodded slowly. The subsequent dishes were still delicious, yet her heart felt slightly uneasy for some reason.
After lunch, Tenere strolled through the beautiful rose garden with the Dowager Empress. The tension she felt when stepping into the Star Palace had already faded.
“I heard you gifted the Emperor a handkerchief.”
The Dowager Empress asked as she touched the fully bloomed rose petals. Tenere blushed slightly.
“My skills are inadequate but its the only a talent I possess…”
“Your skills are not inadequate. They’re quite exceptional.”
The praise felt ticklish and unfamiliar. Unable to find the right words, Tenere bowed her head, and the Dowager Empress raised her hand.
Her finger, calloused from embroidery, gently approached her face. For a moment, Tenere’s shoulders flinched.
Beatrice looked at her with a puzzled expression. But just for a moment, she then tucked Tenere’s hair behind her ear.
Only then did Tenere straighten up.
“I used to love embroidery before entering the palace. Though the High Emperor forbade it for a long time, I’ve been finding time to pick up the needlework again recently.”
“If the Empress also enjoys embroidery, how about occasionally doing it together here? It might soothe the loneliness if the Empress joins.”
The soft voice brought more surprise than joy. Whenever she embroidered in her room, her father always found fault with it.
“It seems you’re just going to fit into a snobbish family that wants you as a mere ornament. Of course, I don’t know if such a family would accept someone from a low lineage like you.”
The mocking voice still lingered in her ears, making the present warmth hard to accept.
After a long pause, Tenere realized the Dowager Empress was waiting for a response.
“If it pleases the Dowager Empress, anytime.”
Though a delayed response, the Empress smiled happily. Beneath the dimpled corners of her smiling lips lay a faint blush.
The towering gray spires of the palace displayed grandeur and symmetry, while its walls, despite their angular appearance, softened with rounded dome-shaped windows.
As Tenere stepped into the grand building, she leisurely surveyed her surroundings. It suddenly felt like her home.
The friezes between the pillars and ceilings were intricately carved with the royal insignia of lions and eagles. The high ceilings displayed ornate grid patterns, while panels on the walls depicted detailed carvings of trees, flowers, animals, and fish.
In this massive palace that seemed to crush her, every corner bore the mark of human touch.
Perhaps the Empress and the previous Empresses lived here, embracing uncertainty and fear, just like her.
“Don’t worry; I’ll be by your side.”
Tenere repeated those words several times. It felt like a part of her chest had softened like marshmallow.
As the voice reached her ears, Tenere’s steps halted. The attendants following her all bowed.
As she looked up, the Emperor stood before her.
“You seem in good spirits.”
A soft but cheerful tone tickled her ears.
“Wasn’t my expression not good earlier?”
She seemed to have smiled out of habit. After a brief hesitation, she closed her eyes and smiled.
“I’m on my way back from seeing Her Majesty.”
The Emperor tilted his head in slight surprise.
“I thought you were supposed to start learning your duties next week.”
“She invited me for lunch.”
In response to Tenere’s words, the emperor’s eyes, which had widened, softened once again.
“If it’s uncomfortable, you could have declined next time… but judging by your expression, it seems unnecessary.”
“It wasn’t uncomfortable. I actually truly enjoyed it”
Tenere spoke sincerely. Despite being a bit unfamiliar and awkward, it turned out to be a pleasant time.
The gentle touch that brushed through her hair and the warmth of the laughter and affectionate words made her heart flutter.
“The empress occasionally suggests spending time together doing embroidery.”
Tenere hesitated slightly. It was because of the empress’s earlier statement about the previous emperor prohibiting her from engaging in embroidery.
She wondered if the emperor might dislike wasting time on such activities as well, and if he would be angry when he found out later.
With a nervous heart, Tenere awaited his response. The hesitant emperor finally spoke.
“Do you mean me……?”
As she lifted her head, the emperor had an expression as surprised as hers. Their round eyes blinked as they looked at each other.
An awkward silence hung between them. It was the emperor who broke the silence.
“I may not be skilled in embroidery, but I will occasionally make time for it.”
“Ah… Yes, Your Majesty.”
Tenere stood there somewhat dazed, quickly nodding her head. The emperor lightly kissed the back of her hand and then shifted his gaze.
Only after the sound of footsteps faded did Tenere come to her senses.
What just happened? What were they talking about? She glanced back at the place where Leonard had disappeared.
The emperor coming to the place for embroidery meant… so, she didn’t need permission.
A belated realization brought a slight blush to her cheeks. The area where his lips had touched felt a bit warm