Chapter 15

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The Bartle Mountains leading from the north gate of the Imperial Palace were steep. Crossing the mountain range, it would lead to the Grand Duchy of Eisen, but no one dared to approach it easily.

 

Aside from the terrain, the thick fog and vicious beasts were rampant all year round, so getting somewhat lost or losing your life was a common occurrence.

 

Kane had generously offered Cerdian the guest palace at the north gate. No one thought it was a complete favor. The palace was now almost abandoned.

 

[I’m sure you miss your homeland, but let’s take comfort in the mist.]

 

It was only because it was close to his estate. Cerdian loosened the tight cravat and handed it over to the attendant next to him. As his steps took him to the north gate, he recalled what happened earlier.

 

‘After being betrayed like that, do you (Rodelia) still have feelings for him?’

 

He didn’t like the way Rodelia defended the emperor in front of him, as if she was afraid he would get hurt.

 

The stupid emperor didn’t seem to know that.

 

The sight of her kept bothering him. Maybe it was his impatience, maybe it was the faint fear that he would never have her after all.

 

The fear that he would struggle and die in this horrible pain for the rest of his life.

 

He thought he would never feel the feeling of fear in his life.

 

Cerdian chuckled to himself. Then he heard the sound of thin, rasping steps.

 

“Grand Duke.”

 

Hiding his example, he looked back at the clear, calm voice he was now used to hearing. 

 

****

 

After Cerdian left, even Sola hurried out of her seat, leaving only a heavy silence in the hall.

 

”Empress ……How can you humiliate me like that?”

 

 

Kane shouted to Rodelia, his expression fixed and motionless. Then, he swept his hair roughly as if he couldn’t take it anymore.

 

“I…”

 

‘I was just worried about you.’

 

She didn’t say anything behind his back. No, she couldn’t.

 

Maybe it was her pride, but she couldn’t get it out of her throat.

 

Kane snickered at Rodelia’s inability to say anything.

 

“I see you are already close to the Grand Duke. The Grand Duke called you his best friend.”

 

“I’m not……”

 

“Do you have an excuse?”

 

Looking at the sarcastic Kane, Rodelia kept her mouth shut. Does it matter if she comes up with an excuse? 

 

He wasn’t going to listen to it anyway.

 

Rodelia replied calmly with a fake smile on her lips.

 

“I’m tired. I’ll go now.”

 

She noticed that Kane’s expression was more hardened, but she didn’t care.

 

She wanted him to feel what it’s like to be left alone.

 

* *

 

Rodelia was on her way back to the Empress’ palace when she spotted Cerdian, who had left earlier.

 

Untying the cravat and handing it over to the servant, he was perfect as usual.

 

‘I’m in such danger.’

 

Was he not feeling well? Rodelia impulsively approached Cerdian.

 

“Grand Duke.”

 

Cerdian turned around slowly. His silver hair was dancing in the wind, and his casual expression was very beautiful.

 

So she was even more frustrated.

 

She didn’t like the way he cold heartedly dug into her quiet mind.

 

If he didn’t say anything, Kane would have continued to hide it, and she would continue to live without knowing anything.

 

Rodelia grabbed her dress and looked at Cerdian.

 

Her eyes were filled with a mixture of emotions and him.

 

“What is it…”

 

Cerdian gestured to the attendant next to him to leave and opened his mouth.

 

Contrary to the expectation that it would be nothing, Cerdian’s voice was edgy.

 

The panicked Rodelia clenched her lips and asked in the same sharp voice.

 

“Are you planning to take revenge on me for refusing your favor?”

 

“Revenge?”

 

Cerdian laughed for a moment, as if he had heard a funny story.

 

“Revenge…How dare I take revenge on the empress? That’s a very interesting imagination.”

 

He stepped closer to Rodelia. There was already a hint of amusement in Cerdian’s cold face as she looked closer.

 

“So, why on earth……?”

 

“Are you trying to tell me why I’ve offended the Emperor?”

 

A low voice drifted into her ears.

 

Rodelia’s gaze followed him closely. It was so close that she could hear his breath.

 

Really, really only Cerdian was in her field of vision. She had to avoid his eyes, but somehow she didn’t want to.

 

She was always the one who avoided his eyes first. But she didn’t want to do it today.

 

When Rodelia faced him silently, without avoiding his eyes, there was a hint of interest in his eyes.

 

The expression on his face, as he met her gaze with his red eyes that seemed to contain the sun, was subtly distorted for a moment.

 

It was Cerdian who averted his gaze first.

 

‘Why on earth?’

 

“I’ll reply later.”

 

After leaving the incomprehensible words behind, Cerdian hid his confusion and hardened his expression and moved away.

 

Her gaze didn’t move for a long time after he left.

 

****

 

Confusion gave way to action. Returning to the room, Cerdian took off his jacket and left it at random.

 

It was an action he would never have taken under normal circumstances.

 

Sitting down on the couch, Cerdian tilted the bottle of whiskey on the table.

 

‘Why did you offend the emperor?’

 

At first he thought Rodelia’s question was strange. He already knew the answer.

 

Of course, it was for fun.

 

But he couldn’t answer anything as he looked into Rodelia’s deep green eyes, wanting to admire her broken expression.

 

He realized that he hadn’t just done something impulsive for fun.

 

He was perplexed. So he walked away as if to escape. He didn’t want her to see him in a state of disarray.

 

Cerdian emptied the bottle of whiskey and admitted while looking at the bright silvery moon shining through the window.

 

He didn’t know exactly what this unpleasant sensation, emotion, meant.

 

Rodelia Florence, because it bothered him that she would give her heart to such a fool.

 

****

 

After a tiring meal, Rodelia returned to her room, exhausted, and lay on her back on the bed.

 

A cool but fluffy blanket wrapped around her body. Gradually, the tension began to dissipate and the events of the day entered her mind all at once.

 

“Cerdian Eisen…….”

 

Rodelia murmured his name in a small voice, one that had been familiar to her for some time.

 

As Empress, she had to deal with all types of people in a resolute manner. Some of them were obsessively handsome, and some scratched her nerves. But they came and went without any problems.

 

But there was something distinctly different about Cerdian. He had always bothered her. Why?

 

Even though the Grand Duchy of Eisen had a great influence on the Empire, it was still a grand duchy at best.

 

You might think that imperial blood might have that level of influence, but it wasn’t because of imperial blood that the Eisens were able to receive the Grand Dukedom.

 

It was just because it was a family that had done an enormous contribution at the founding of the country. But somehow, at the time of the founding of the country, the Grand Duke of Eisen could reign almost like an emperor.

 

‘Seeing as Kane is willing to go that far, I think it’s the same now………. It’s definitely something.’

 

Rodelia frowned as she placed the back of her hand on her forehead. One of the things she had learned about the history of the Empire was that even among historians, the former Grand Duke of Eisen had a distinctly different reputation.

 

Some said that he just didn’t care about power and abandoned his position as emperor, while others thought that he left all the troublesome matters to the emperor and wielded absolute power behind his back.

 

Importantly, none of these opinions ever disparaged the former Grand Duke of Eisen. Of course, their own chilly atmosphere, befitting their reputation, played a role.

 

However, their prestige gradually waned over time, and the children of the Grand Duke began to live on their estates until they reached adulthood.

 

As a result, rumors began to circulate that a strange curse might have been placed on the Grand Duke for the crime of repeated killings. Taking advantage of this, the checks and balances of the other nobles were like a poke in the sky.

 

However, as if to show off that the Eisen House was in good shape, every time they were threatened, they destroyed the nobles who underestimated their position.

 

No matter how much so, the emperor cannot be taken against recklessly. However, the current Grand Duke, Cerdian, was different. As soon as he came of age, he made his presence known.

 

‘Cerdian may have a desire for power.’

 

He acted like a man who had no qualms about it. Kane was no different. He couldn’t stand up to Cerdian because of what he feared. The most powerful emperor of all time, Kane Bayard.

 

‘Surely there’s something I don’t know.’

 

It was the same for Sola. Why should she be so afraid of her own siblings?

 

In the end, nothing was good. Rodelia stopped thinking and covered her eyes with her cold hands. She shouldn’t be sleeping like this, but her body was getting heavier and heavier, and her consciousness was fading.

 

“…… Really, it’s strange.”

 

****

 

“Ah!”

 

When Rodelia woke up at dawn, her forehead was covered with cold sweat, as if she had had a bad dream. She staggered up with a pale face and sat down at the table.

 

Puzzled, she quickly reached for the kettle with trembling hands and poured the tea. It was only when the cup was overfilled and the tea wetted her hand that she finally came to her senses.

 

Her mouth was dry. She sipped the tea, remembering the dream.

 

It was a strange dream.

 

It was too vivid to be a dream, too unreal to be reality.

 

She was in a small, dimly lit room with a feeling of something staring at her all the time, and an unrecognizable fear tightened around her. She couldn’t see ahead, so she couldn’t run away or know the reality of it.

 

“Nightmare…?”

 

She hadn’t had any nightmares lately, and her body felt weak. A cold sweat broke out again down her dry spine as she thought of the dream.

 

Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but she felt as if someone was staring at her, and she turned her head and looked towards the window.

 

For a moment, her green eyes met those bright red eyes.