Chapter 2 – Part 1
Tenere, who had finished a few days of rest, sought the empress’s office to learn her duties. Nervously, she took deep breaths to calm her pounding heart.
Would she be as good as before? Would she hate me for lacking so much?
Tenere’s mind was filled with worries, and her anxiety peaked as she knocked on the door.
“Even if they act nicely with you, they might not feel the same way”
It was because of brother’s advice. With those words it seemed absurd to worry about someone having different thoughts in social circles, but still…
Empress Beatrice was already seated in the office. Tenere looked at her in surprise and bowed her head.
“I apologize for being late, Your Majesty.”
“No need. I just happened to arrived early. Please, have a seat.”
Fortunately, Beatrice was still smiling, just like before.
Tenere, feeling relieved, glanced briefly at the books stacked on the table. Her head habitually inclined downward.
“Since you’ve managed the household in the house of Evans, it shouldn’t be too difficult. The empress oversees the affairs of the palace and must also become the companion of the emperor. To achieve that…”
Beatrice’s words were clear, but they only made Tenere feel more uneasy.
Being the emperor’s companion was a heavy and daunting task for someone like her, who desired a peaceful and simple life.
At the sudden voice, Tenere quickly raised her head. Beatrice stopped speaking and was staring at her.
“I don’t think this is what the Empress needs right now.”
Tenere blinked in confusion as Beatrice’s hand flew towards her face.
Tenere involuntarily lowered her head and shrunk back. But that was only for a moment, as Beatrice grabbed Tenere’s chin and lifted it.
Tenere, bewildered, opened her eyes wide, but Beatrice looked quite satisfied. Her unwavering gaze was awkward.
Tenere couldn’t push the empress away and remained fixed in place.
“There are only two occasions when the Empress can bow her head with impunity.”
Beatrice spoke as if urging Tenere to listen, still holding onto her chin. Tenere stuttered to respond.
“When meeting the emperor and empress…?”
Beatrice had expected that answer.
Tenere’s large eyes blinked wblankly. Beatrice silently laughed at her surprised face.
But despite her gentle expression, her words were firm.
“When washing your face in the morning and offering condolences to the deceased.”
The hand that had held Tenere’s chin gently caressed her cheek. It was an extremely warm touch. Tenere still couldn’t say anything.
“As Empress, you are the closest to the King when he makes a wrong choice, and in his absence, you make important decisions on his behalf, so you must never bow to anyone.”
Although the hand that stroked her cheek had already been withdrawn, Tenere still couldn’t raise her head. The higher-than-usual eye level felt somehow awkward.
“If the empress lowers herself, the emperor’s dignity is also lowered. So, don’t bow your head in the future.”
“I’ll keep that in mind…”
At Beatrice’s pointed remark, Tenere jerked her head up again. She felt a little embarrassed by the stare.
Beatrice remained silent for a while.
It was quite a struggle to keep her head up and withstand the stare.
It wasn’t long before a servant brought tea and refreshments, but the situation hadn’t changed.
“Don’t avert your eyes.”
Tenere resisted the urge to close her eyes. It would have been nice to at least have a conversation, but this was like having a snowball fight with the Empress.
It was more difficult for Tenere to endure the silence.
“Um, when will I start my duties?”
“Stand up straight. Straighten your shoulders and chest.”
Tenere obediently followed her words. Beatrice continued to gaze at her without moving. She glanced at the clock.
“It’s been five minutes.”
Although it felt like they had been in this situation for at least thirty minutes…
Tenere, embarrassed, continued to stay in that position due to Beatrice’s gaze.
After a while, Beatrice stood up. She took something out of a drawer and approached Tenere again.
When Beatrice gave permission, Tenere finally exhaled deeply and leaned back against the backrest halfway.
But it was only for a moment. She straightened her back again and raised her head. Beatrice, who found it amusing, smiled faintly.
“You did well, Empress.”
After a brief compliment, her hand approached her face again. Something slipped between slightly parted lips.
Before Tenere could react to the Dowager Empress feeding her, she was caught in the surprise of being fed directly.
Tenere didn’t know whether to be embarrassed that she was suddenly eating candy or that the Dowager Empress had fed her something herself.
Unlike Tenere, who couldn’t hide her embarrassment, Beatrice was quite nonchalant.
“Does it taste good?”
“Yes? Oh, yes…… ma, it’s delicious.”
“If you do well next time, I’ll give you strawberry-flavored ones.”
Tenere realized in hindsight that the corners of Beatrice’s eyes were folded playfully.
The candy in her mouth was unexpectedly sweet.
Beatrice spent some time instructing Tenere. Before imparting her duties, she made sure Tenere held her head high and looked her straight in the eye.
In the morning, Beatrice taught Tenere about her duties, and in the afternoon, Tenere learned various subjects such as history, geography, court etiquette, and military strategy from the governesses.
Initially, the tasks seemed difficult and overwhelming, but as days passed, Tenere became more accustomed to them. She consciously lifted her head while learning her duties, and each time she did, the Empress would praise her or offer a small candy, much like one would do with a child.
“I’m still healthy, so don’t be in a hurry to learn. You must be careful not to hurt your precious body.” Beatrice advised.
In Beatrice’s presence, Tenere seemed like a very young child. Beatrice was adept at giving compliments—on Tenere’s attire, posture, speech, expression—everything received affectionate words.
Unlike her father, who would express anger or disdain, Beatrice treated Tenere with kindness, no matter the circumstance.
“Oh, by the way, I heard you met Lady Deferac yesterday.”
While organizing documents, Tenere nodded slowly.
After Tenere’s marriage to the Emperor became known, many noblewomen and ladies visited her. Since it was revealed that she enjoyed embroidery while sitting with the Empress, many pretended to have a hobby of embroidery to get closer to her.
Although Tenere found these situations somewhat uncomfortable, she tried not to show it. After all, until last year, she had tried to approach Alaina at her father’s command.
Stella, Dalia, and even Janice, who had been Alaina’s close friends, came to congratulate Tenere instead of showing any discomfort about her occupying the Empress’s position.
While Tenere wondered if Alaina’s friends would feel uncomfortable with her sitting in the Empress’s place instead of Alaina, their attitudes remained friendly.
“Good relationships should be maintained with the young Lady Deferac. She resembles Lady Deferac in being perceptive and intelligent.”
Beatrice remarked. Tenere nodded, but she couldn’t be certain. Good relationships required mutual consent.
“You’ve done well. Now, please deliver these documents to His Majesty.”
She was in the habit of delivering important papers directly to the emperor, rather than through her secretary, but once Tenere had begun to learn her duties, she had entrusted them to her. It was a sign of trust in the new Empress.
Tenere put down the pen she was holding and accepted the documents from Beatrice. However, as she tried to stand up, her long sleeve got caught on a teacup and stretched out.
Teneur’s body tilted, and the extended sleeve hung on the teacup, causing it to make a loud noise. It all happened in a split second, both her falling to the ground and the teacup shattering with a loud clatter.
“Are you okay?”
Surprised, Beatrice quickly approached her. Tenere hurriedly tried to organize the scattered documents on the floor.
However, when she saw tea stains on the document bearing the Empress’s seal, her face turned pale.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…. I’m really sorry Your Majesty. Please don’t…”
Tenere picked up the wet papers with trembling hands, not knowing what to do. Would Beatrice scold her for being clumsy, or maybe even slap her for ruining something important?
Even though she was dressed much more luxuriously and elegantly than when she was at the mansion, her body still remembered the days of hardships.
Tenere quickly bowed her head.
“Your Majesty, Empress, what happened?”
The startled attendants knocked on the door. Tenere knew that Beatrix’s gaze was scrutinizing her. The pain in her hand was palpable.
At the sudden voice, Tenere raised her head. Emperor Leonard, who had entered without warning, was looking at her.
“I heard a loud noise and came to see…”
“Are you okay?”
Leonard approached Tenere and extended his hand. Tenere hesitated for a moment and then held his hand.
It seemed as if his eyebrows were narrowing, almost like he was trying to say something.
“I apologize for my carelessness…”
Tenere realized only now that he was looking at her hand. The area where the cup had scraped against her hand was turning white, and a faint drop of blood was rising.
“I’ll call the physician.”
Tenere asked in surprise. However, Leonard did not wait for an answer and turned away. The door to the office opened wide.
“Your Majesty, this is just…”
It was an embarrassing mark, hardly a wound at all, just a small cut that, once healed, wouldn’t need to be treated at all.
“It’s okay. Stay still.”
Beatrice intervened, leading Tenere towards the sofa. The attendants entered the office, clearing away the broken cup and wiping the floor.
Shortly after, the palace physician entered the room.
“Your Majesty, Empress, what happened?”
The physician inspected Tenere’s wound and applied medicine. It wasn’t a deep wound, and he assured her that it wouldn’t leave a scar.
Whether he said it to comfort her or because it was indeed a small injury that would heal even without applying medicine, Tenere couldn’t tell.
“I accidentally dropped the teacup. The Empress was trying to pick it up when it fell to the floor.”
Beatrice said calmly. Tenere opened his mouth in surprise, but her hand was quicker to wrap around the back of her hand.
“I’ve lost one of your papers, and I’ll rewrite it before sending the documents to your office.” Beatrice said
“Okay. You can take your time.”
Leonard replied with a smile and picked up the papers that were still intact. It was only after he had returned to his office that Tenere barely opened her mouth.
“Why did Empress…?”
“It’s not a big mistake, but you seemed too tense.”
Beatrice’s expression was as gentle as ever. Tenere found it exceptionally unfamiliar.
“Aren’t you angry?”
Tenere asked cautiously, a bit impulsively.
She knew that such a question was like scratching an itch. If Beatrice chose to overlook her mistake and move on, Tenere should have been grateful.
But this kindness felt too uncomfortable and awkward to Tenere. No, perhaps it was unsettling.
Beatrice raised an eyebrow, looking at her with confusion.
“Is there something to be angry about?”
“I’ll just rewrite the documents. It’s that simple.”
The conclusion was straightforward. The Dowager Empress returned to her desk, picked up the pen, and resumed writing. The scratching sound of the pen on paper echoed in the room.
Tenere hesitated for a moment before speaking.
“…… Thank you, Your Majesty.”
“Don’t mention it.”
The response still carried a hint of laughter.