Holdis clearly expressed his refusal to the emperor in a small but distinct voice. How dare a commoner refuse the emperor’s request. Asking Holdis to let go of what couldn’t even be exchanged for his life, even if he had to die here, there was nothing he could do about it.
“The prince’s madness is unfortunate, but no one can be sure if it’s because of the contract at that time. I cannot send Eliana away thoughtlessly. To me, there is only Eliana, Your Majesty.”
Upon hearing Holdis’ words, Artein closed his eyes for a moment, as if deeply lost in thought. After finishing his thoughts, Artein stood up from the sofa and approached Holdis. And slowly, he tightly held his hand.
“Please, Holdis. I am begging you like this. It was all thanks to Eliana… I should have let Eliana stay at the palace and proceeded with the engagement. I hope to correct it now, even if it’s late. You and I must restore the fate of our two children.”
“It must have been hard for you to pretend not to know for a long time. I can understand if you refuse. I will take care of Eliana so that she can live in the palace without any shortcomings. The same goes for you.”
Holdis’ eyes wavered as he looked at the Emperor who pleaded with him. He couldn’t ignore the Emperor of the Empire making such arrangements for a mere country peasant. Refusing any longer would be an act of rebellion.
“You protected my sick wife during the war with the witches. You allowed her to peacefully meet her death at home. I consider that an unrepayable favor to Your Majesty.”
Artein held Holdis’ hand tightly, as if expecting the desired answer to come out.
“I will comply with Eliana’s wishes. If Eliana wants it, I will send her to the palace. In return, please send her back home whenever Eliana desires it.”
“Fine. I will do that.”
Artein had no doubt. If Eliana were to meet Tristan in person, she would not be able to refuse him.
At that moment, the door to the house suddenly opened, and Tristan entered.
Artein beamed at Tristan and tried to introduce him to Holdis, but Tristan snapped.
“Let’s leave right now, father.”
“What are you saying all of a sudden?”
“Look at this! My pants and shoes are a mess!”
Artein looked at Tristan’s pants with disbelief. Dark brown stains were scattered all over, emitting a foul smell.
“What on earth happened?”
“The girl who works in the stable threw filth at me!”
Instantly, Holdis was also startled and exclaimed simultaneously with Artein. Artein had to calm Tristan down first.
“Just go into the room and change your clothes for now. Holdis, will that be okay?”
“Yes! Of course. Come this way.”
With a determined look, Tristan and the attendants followed Holdis into the room. Artein sat on the sofa, pressing his forehead slightly in pain. Surprised by the unfamiliar feeling of the sofa suddenly sinking, he quickly sighed and leaned back against it.
A little while later, Eliana and Tommy, who had finished their work at the stable similar to when Tristan came out, entered the house. Upon seeing the middle-aged man in extravagant clothes in their living room, Eliana and Tommy were startled and had no choice but to stop right at the door.
“Dad… who are these people?”
“Eliana, Tommy. Come here and greet them properly. It’s His Imperial Majesty.”
“What? His Imperial Majesty?”
Upon Holdis’ words, Eliana felt a shiver running through her body. Too surprised to speak, she stood with her mouth agape, and Holdis warned her with his eyes.
“Ah! I’m sorry.”
Eliana and Tommy regained their composure, approached Artein, and bowed their heads to greet him.
“We are pleased to meet Your Imperial Majesty. I’m Eliana.”
“Greetings, Your Imperial Majesty. I’m Tommy.”
Artein carefully examined Eliana and spoke.
Artein noticed Tristan, who was staring at Eliana from the side, as the two children raised their heads.
“This is Prince Tristan. Greet him.”
Upon hearing Holdis’ words, Eliana was taken aback once again. Did she offend the prince in some way? Would she be punished for it? Her heart pounded with anxiety.
“I, I greet Prince Tristan. I am Eliana.”
“I greet Prince Tristan. I am Tommy.”
Artein, who saw that sight, asked Holdis,
“Who is Tommy? Do you have a son?”
“No, he’s not mine. He’s Eliana’s friend, and he comes to help out once in a while because I’m in such a bad state.”
“I see. You must be very grateful to this friend.”
Tommy came in to say goodbye to Holdis before heading back home, suddenly dumbfounded at what was going on.
“Tommy, you should go home now. We have important matters to discuss privately.”
“Oh, then I’ll take my leave then. Your Majesty.”
Tommy hastily greeted only Artein and hurriedly left the suffocating house.
Now, only the parties directly involved in the incident were left. An awkward silence filled the air. Holdis and Eliana dared not look directly at the Emperor and the Prince, keeping their heads down. Artein, too, remained silent. Tristan, who felt frustrated by the situation, spoke first:
“Father, you mentioned that there are important matters to discuss.”
Tristan wanted nothing but to quickly finish this work and go back. To Tristan, Artein quietly recounted an old story.
“Holdis here saved me during the war when I was a prince. Unfortunately, he lost his arm.”
Only then did Tristan see Holdis’ one arm. And he gave a formal response.
“Yes, I see there was such an incident.”
“That’s right. At that time, I intended to grant him a noble title in return. But Holdis refused. He said he wanted to live quietly in his hometown.”
Tristan’s expression became somewhat dull. He didn’t want to think about why someone would talk about something that happened long before his birth and didn’t even involve his rescue. If it didn’t concern his personal affairs, Tristan simply had no interest.
“So, we made a promise back then. We promised to unite Holdis’ child and my child.”
Only then did Tristan, surprised, ask in an interrogative tone. He thought it had nothing to do with him, but there was a close connection. And it was enough to shake his whole life. Tristan clenched his hands tightly and began to tremble.
“It’s a very old promise. It may be difficult to accept, but as the prince, it’s accepting the role as part of the imperial family…”
“I cannot accept it!”
Tristan’s outcry brought about a stillness as if time had frozen.
“Tristan, Eliana’s opinion is more important than yours.”
Although Tristan glared at his father, Artein casually spoke towards Eliana.
“Eliana, if you wish to become the princess consort of this empire by marrying Tristan, you will accompany him to the palace. However, if you do not want it, I have no intention of forcing it upon you.”
Ignoring Tristan’s outcry, Artein stared at Eliana. Eliana, with anger in her eyes, briefly glanced at the defiant Tristan, then lowered her head.
“Your Majesty, could you please give me some time. This is such a bewildering situation for me, and I have no idea what is going on.”
With tears in her voice, Eliana spoke, and Artein nodded his head.
“Yes. It’s a sudden matter, so you’ll need time to think. I’ll stay in Yust until you make your decision.”
Holdis and Eliana, who bid farewell to the Emperor and Tristan, seemed to regain their composure after a while. Holdis gently chided Eliana, as if he had anticipated such a situation.
“Eliana, it’s okay if you don’t want this. His Majesty didn’t give an order, so don’t worry about it.”
“Dad… If I go to the palace, will you be left alone here?”
“Haha. That’s right. But Eliana, don’t worry about me staying here out of concern for your life. You should only follow your heart to find happiness.”
Eliana thought of Tristan. His blond hair that sparkled in the sunlight. And his beautiful golden eyes that stared back at her. His white, sparkling eyes had stayed with her long after, since she’d only seen boys her age with tanned faces and freckles from working in the fields. And, strangely, he looked familiar.
Eliana thought of Tristan. His golden hair shining brilliantly in the sunlight. And strangely enough, he felt familiar.
“I’ll think about it, Dad.”
“Yes, take your time. His Majesty will understand.”
Holdis’ expression sank as he watched Eliana enter the room. If Tristan’s illness is due to the potion, Eliana must go to the palace. After all, she was a party to the contract, so who knows what might happen to her. It was heartbreaking to have a predetermined conclusion and lie to his daughter, but if Eliana also decides based on her own desires, she will surely try to go to the palace. Holdis felt powerless in the face of fate.
* * *
The Emperor and Tristan, who had finished their business at Yust, got on a carriage to return to the capital. Inside the carriage, Tristan fearlessly stared at his father, the Emperor.
“Soon, Eliana will enter the palace. If she’s going to be a princess, we can’t just leave the child there. We plan to educate her in the palace, teaching her the culture of the imperial family and nobility.”
Tristan, who had been half-listening to Artein’s words, could no longer bear it.
“Isn’t this going too far? Father, how can you make such a decision without discussing it with me?”
Filled with anger, Tristan slammed his fist against the carriage door. The Emperor didn’t even blink an eye, as if it wasn’t the first or second time he had witnessed such tantrums.
“What kind of child did you pick up? Why do I have to marry a commoner like that? Why of all people…!”
Tristan thought of Eliana, who had a smudge on her shoes and face, and stared at him with round eyes. If she were a poor noble from the countryside, he might have understood. A visible beauty, if not a royal, then at least a noble. This was unacceptable to Tristan, who pursued honor. He shook his head.
‘This is ridiculous. Why is this happening.’
But Artein’s expression darkened. Tristan flinched as his father disappeared and only the image of an emperor remained.
“Tristan. Although there is social status within our empire, anyone can become a noble based on their abilities. However, if one lacks the ability, they will simply fall to the status of commoners or slaves.”
“It’s true that social hierarchy exists. But it’s uncommon for commoners and nobles to marry, not to mention a prince!”
“Holdis saved me when I was the crown prince of this country. It was equivalent to saving this empire. Despite having the opportunity for social advancement, he refused the title and chose to live modestly with his beloved family. I don’t think his character is any less noble than the honor of the nobility.”
“So why should I pay the price for Emperor’s life? Why! You’ve arranged a marriage between my brother, the Crown Prince, and a count’s daughter, so why are you so harsh on me?”
Tristan, with his face turning red, bravely confronted him. Artein coldly stared at his son’s defiant appearance.
“The burden is the empire itself. Before you are my son, you are a subject of the empire. Being loyal to me is also your duty. Anything else to you have to say?”
Tristan attempted to say something more but soon bit his lip, turned his head, and looked away.
“Good. Don’t speak any further about this matter. That’s an order.”
Since it was not the time to talk about the potion contract yet, he hid it by saying that it was something he and Holdis had made a pact with while he was the crown prince. After all, convincing him without revealing the truth wouldn’t be easy, but if persuasion didn’t work, the Emperor’s authority had to be used to make Tristan accept it. That was the only way to save his son.
After that day, Tristan became more unruly. If he had to live his life according to the destiny bestowed by his father, he wanted to enjoy it as he pleased while he still could. The Emperor watched as Tristan indulged in a promiscuous lifestyle, playing with all the unmarried women in the capital. The more he tried to control him, the more he ran wild, so it was a matter of watching how far he would go. But the Emperor didn’t know that Tristan couldn’t overcome the increasing madness and had started using drugs.
Meanwhile, the palace busily moved to welcome the future princess. Eliana would stay at the palace and after the wedding ceremony, she would go to the Ducal estate with Tristan. Everything had been predetermined.