The silence was longer than she expected.
Contemplating whether to extend her hand first towards the trembling Lady Lawrence, she stopped herself and made up her mind.
It was regrettable that Lady Lawrence had to become the person who would dance to the movements of Briella’s fingers on the strings.
“I too was a puppet.”
There was another puppeteer of this puppet show. She thought of the man, likely surrounded by attendants, working in his study at this very moment.
It felt awkward for me to have such leisurely thoughts while in front of someone who might become an adversary.
Somehow, it seemed like her face was heating up..
Briella leisurely set down her teacup and turned her gaze out the window. The persistent gaze of Lady Lawrence, following her intently, bothered her.
However, Briella feigned ignorance, appearing as if it were a trivial matter, as if it were nothing at all.
Ignoring the reverberations of her heart had become a natural thing.
“…Were you waiting?”
Finally, the awaited response came.
Briella, who had been gazing out the window, slowly turned her head at Lady Lawrence’s words.
Even with that slight movement, Lady Lawrence’s gaze followed suit.
It was impossible for Briella not to understand the meaning contained in that burdened gaze.
First, the sudden appearance of Lucas Viterpan, the Duke, enough to send her reeling, and now there was a lady who speaks Kali.
For several days, Lady Lawrence’s visage, concealed beneath heavy makeup, had not been able to sleep properly, her face imbued with a deep sense of exhaustion.
‘Shall I fan the flame a little more?’
Briella, who had momentarily lost herself in thought, turned her head. A cornered mouse would bite a cat. Furthermore, Lady Lawrence was a young woman, no different than her.
She had lost her country, her parents, and her siblings.
“I must change the question then. How long will you continue to wait?”
She elegantly lifted the teacup with a slender finger, tilting her head slightly. The tea in the cup swirled in response to Briella’s gesture.
Briella lightly moved her wrist, deliberately shaking the cold water inside the teacup. The tea swirled even more vigorously in accordance with her movements.
The swirling tea, obedient to her will, pleased her considerably. Even when I stopped my gestures, the swirling did not cease for a while.
“Since the Empress Olivia’s passing, has the game not already begun? Perhaps…”
Looking at Lady Lawrence, Briella tilted her head. Lady Lawrence’s face turned pale at the intentionally drawn-out conclusion.
“W-What are you getting at?”
“Olivia, as the Empress, must have been a significant obstacle to the people of Kali.”
“Nevertheless, I do not go around killing people!” Lady Lawrence, spellbinded by Briella’s words, hastily interrupted her.
She had been a companion of the Eve Ferena and accustoming herself to the palace for a long time.
However, there was no room for her in the imperial court of the Rhone Empire.
It was all because of Empress Olivia. The Empress, who had governed the state in Gusto’s stead, a position Olivia was worthy of but made her a hindrance.
Lady Lawrence bit her lip, thinking of Empress Olivia.
“I suppose you couldn’t kill her. I don’t blame your lack of ability.”
Observing the anger welling up in Lady Lawrence’s crimson eyes, Briella sipped her tea.
The lukewarm water flowed down her dry throat, tightened with tension.
Briella realized, almost inadvertently, that she too was tense, and exhaled softly as she took another sip of tea. The battle of wits between women turned out to be more exhausting than expected.
She would have felt much more comfortable holding meetings with the substitutes in the palace.
“Are you from Kali?”
“Why? If I were from Kali, would you make me kneel? Your Highness?”
Lady Lawrence took a deep breath at Briella’s words.
The last princess of Kali, the last heir to the kingdom.
She was known to have been taken hostage by Gusto and displayed on the city walls, but in fact she had barely escaped before the palace was captured.
“H-How did you…?”
“Well, well. You’ve exposed everything while seated. I must say, you’re exhausting me.”
Lady Lawrence bowed her head at Briella’s words. Somehow, she had unknowingly revealed her hand to her.
Admitting her defeat, Lady Lawrence let out a deep sigh.
“What do you mean by ‘time’?”
“You showed me what I didn’t even ask to see, and now you’re asking me to show you what’s mine?”
Lady Lawrence fiddled with the hem of her dress, her nervous movements eliciting a wry smile.
It was a new, unseen side of the well-known Lady Lawrence in high society, usually the cunning fox.
“You called me here on purpose. You want to take advantage of me.”
Briella looked at Lady Lawrence, who quivered with exasperation, with indifferent eyes and raised her head.
‘How have you managed until now, being so weak? Is this your breaking point?’
As she observed Lady Lawrence, who stared at her as if she were about to kill her, Briella calmly opened her mouth.
“It’s best to have value when it matters. Should that value disappear, both I and Eve Ferena will readily discard you.”
Tears welled up in her red eyes. Despite her trembling body, Briella showed no sign of any reaction.
Instead, a maid who had been guarding her as if nothing had happened refilled her empty cup.
Gently, the tea, steam rising, was poured again.
“How amusing. You discussing my worth, not me.”
Lady Lawrence, who seemed to be in a state of frustration caused by Briella’s one-sided provocations, chose to reveal herself rather than conceal herself.
It was a pointless show of bravado when backed into a corner.
“Well then, go find Eve Ferena immediately. Go and shout, ‘I am the princess of Kali!’ or something.”
“The only thing you can do is to deride me. Even then, if you tried ingratiating yourself, you wouldn’t hear a word about the affairs of the Rhone Empire from Eve Ferena.”
Upon hearing Briella’s words, Lady Lawrence, the Countess, bit her lip. Briella glanced at the blood-red lips, as if the blood would clot.
Still, nothing changed. The hands that were once gently placed on her knees were now clenched into fists.
Briella was right. Although she had taken a place beside the ill-tempered Eve Ferenna, the name of the aging Count, she hadn’t heard a single word about the governance of the Rhone Empire.
If Eve Ferena wasn’t criticizing a dress or a pair of shoes, she was criticizing the Empress Olivia. Count Lawrence was no different.
She held the abundant dowry given to her by him, but the expenditure of that dowry would always be reported. It was suffocating.
Apart from gritting her teeth and enduring it for Kali’s revenge, there was nothing else she could do.
‘You must hold your breath until the time comes. Hide yourself in the shadows and lie flat in the darkness.’
Lady Lawrence closed her eyes, recalling what she knew.
Briella’s words kept echoing in her ears. How long must she wait for the right moment?
Whenever she closed her eyes, that day came to mind. Emperor Gusto of the Rhone Empire, who laughed like a demon in a palace engulfed in flames.
“…Time creates opportunities.”
Surprisingly, Lady Lawrence’s voice was calm.
“If it doesn’t happen by waiting, then we must make it happen. How long can we keep waiting for something that will never come? Time keeps passing.”
Her long fingers brushed against the armrest. Finally, Lady Lawrence looked directly at Briella’s face.
She seemed much more relaxed than when she saw her at the palace.
Her pale face had regained color, and the clothes she wore were not ordinary, perhaps due to having Madame Blanc as her exclusive designer.
“I need time to think.”
“Yes, of course. You must think thoroughly. Your every word carries the lives of many.”
Briella’s words made her tremble, as if she knew everything.
From being the Princess of Kali, to the daughter of the Rhone Empire’s nobility, and then to Countess Lawrence, the road to here had been arduous.
Not to mention, the people of Kali around her, who protected her.
“If you have finished speaking, I will leave first.”
Unlike when she first entered the reception room, she seemed completely drained of energy.
Briella nodded her head while looking at Lady Lawrence, who had withered like a flower after the passing season.
“I hope you remember that you don’t have much time.”
Ignoring Lady Lawrence, who rose from her seat, Briella spoke without a single glance.
Unbeknownst to herself, Lady Lawrence caressed her arm.
Lowering her head slightly, Lady Lawrence, with a throbbing headache, was guided by a maid and left the reception room.
As the sound of the door closing reached her ears, Briella closed her eyes. The prolonged verbal struggle had brought about a great sense of fatigue.
She still couldn’t get used to threatening people with their weaknesses behind closed doors.
Pressing her temples as the throbbing intensified; Briella turned her gaze towards the window.
Outside, there was a voice she was familiar with. She stood up from her seat, mesmerized and approached the window.
“What are you doing?”
Lucas was sitting in front of the rose trellis, showing his broad back.
The reception room where Briella resided was situated not far away.
Unbeknownst to herself, Briella craned her neck and peered outside. From the entrance, Baron rushed towards Lucas, his head held high.
Briella struggled to comprehend this situation. Even Vinter, who stood beside Lucas, appeared restless and unsettled.
“Have you captured it?”
“Then I shall proceed to the opposite side and block its path.”
The two of them maneuvered amidst the rose trellis, moving here and there. Briella couldn’t help but reveal her curiosity as she observed Lucas, who had knelt down, pressing his face against the floor.
Unconsciously, she leaned forward, attuned to the situation outside.
“Your Highness, exercise caution!”
Had Lucas’s hand been grazed by the rose trellis?
Vinter, who always maintained a solemn demeanor, trembled.
Witnessing Vinter’s reaction, Lucas quietly brought his hand to his mouth. In response to Lucas’s subtle gesture, Briella in the reception room also covered her mouth.
It felt necessary, somehow. Her desire not to be discovered while secretly observing had grown stronger.
Instead of silencing her mouth, she widened her eyes and captured his countenance. To be able to observe him so closely, so intimately, for such an extended period—it was still difficult for her to believe, even as an adult. The exhilaration was heightened.
Occasionally, when circumstances warranted, she would cast her gaze downward and regard him as a crown prince or emperor. Even then, she had to evade the prying eyes of others.
She had never anticipated a day when she could fully capture his countenance with her own eyes.
“I’ve caught it, this rascal!”
Startled from her contemplation, Briella awakened at Lucas’s exclamation.
She couldn’t conceal her absentmindedness. Briella, frozen in place, met Lucas’s gaze and stared intently at him.
Only then did she notice the cat nestled in his embrace, purring.
It was quite amusing. Until he pointed to the cat, Briella couldn’t perceive anything else, as she was engrossed in observing Lucas.
Briella’s gaze shifted from Lucas to the cat cradled in his arms. The cat, as white as snow, wriggled and struggled, baring its sharp claws, attempting to escape from Lucas’s embrace.
Behind Lucas, the evening twilight was descending. A man, a cat, and the evening… It seemed a scene of tranquil everyday life, capable of evoking tears.
“This little rascal, it’s got quite the temperament…”
Lucas cautiously covered the cat’s eyes. Suddenly, a maid approached and handed him a blanket.
“Wouldn’t the cat be startled if you don’t hold it like that?”
Baron, holding a courtyard broom, briskly approached and skillfully wrapped the cat in his arms, handing it over to a maid.
“In the future, please assign tasks like this to me!”
Vinter stepped forward, casting a displeased gaze at Lucas. His face appeared disconcerted, perhaps due to the wounds on Lucas’s forearm that he found disagreeable.
Baron, too, trembled at the sight of the cat’s reddened wounds, seemingly inflicted by its own mischief. His clothes were covered in dirt, and multiple red claw marks adorned his forearms.
Lucas sensed Briella’s gaze and covered the red marks with his hand.
“Otherwise, it would have escaped again.”
Lucas casually addressed the two individuals with a nonchalant tone. Baron pursed his lips and Vinter wore a stern expression in response.
“Next time, please refrain from taking initiative.”
Vinter addressed Lucas once again.
“If it weren’t for me, today might have been its last day.”
Lucas shrugged his shoulders. Vinter’s lips twitched in response to his seemingly helpless behavior.
“Above all, this cat resembles Briella.”
Briella, who had been quietly observing the situation until then, was taken aback by his gesture.
The unexpected commotion also drew the attention of the servants who were outside.
Flustered by the sudden attention, Briella looked at Lucas. Lucas, who had rescued the cat, wore a proud expression, nodding his head emphatically.
As Lucas spoke with a bright smile, Vinter smacked his own forehead, and Baron had a bewildered expression on his face.
And Briella’s face turned redder than the nautical twilight.