It was a good day for the hunting competition.
The white snow had somehow seeped into the grass. It was a pleasant afternoon when the warm sunshine made people forget the cold.
Rodelia looked carefully around the palace garden filled with people.
She saw many familiar faces. Most of the aristocrats were there for the purpose of deepening their friendship with the foreign delegations.
Among them she saw the Marquis of Florence, who was beautifully dressed as if to boast his dignity. He was shaking hands with the delegations.
‘I don’t think he’ll pass it up.’
Rodelia’s expectations were right.
She and Kane had just exchanged greetings with the nobles. When Kane stepped away for a moment, the Marquis of Florence approached as if he had been waiting for her.
”Empress, it has been a long time.”
Upon discovering him, Rodelia stiffened. The traces of the years were engraved on his face while she had not seen him, but he still did not seem to have lost his stern appearance.
The moment she heard his voice, the fear that had been hovering deep in her heart reappeared. Her tightly closed lips trembled helplessly.
“I am sorry to bother you, but you don’t come to see this father very often, so I just come to you directly.”
The Marquis of Florence’s eyes, which looked just like Rodelia’s, glared horrifyingly.
“You look good.”
The trembling of her lips spread to her hands. It was because she knew the hidden meaning of the Marquis of Florence’s words.
“I can’t believe you’re so carefree. That’s probably why the emperor was taken away from you.”
“Look at that. After all, the Empress can’t do anything without this father.”
Rodelia’s gaze turned to the ground, unable to face the Marquis. His voice of reproach was as sharp as a thorn.
He couldn’t scold her openly because it was an official meeting, but she could feel that he was very angry. He expressed a little of his suppressed emotion as he patted the back of Rodelia’s hand.
“Perhaps you have neglected the wife’s duty? To be loved by your husband, you must not always relax. If necessary, I can assign someone to teach you what to do. What do you think?”
Rodelia’s face turned red.
How could she say such shameful things to his daughter with such impunity?
The Marquis spat out thorny words with a kindly face. The nobles in the vicinity, unaware of this fact, engaged in a satisfying dialogue about how the Marquis cared so much for his daughter.
“Her father is as kind as ever, isn’t he?”
“Yes. I am somewhat envious. There is nothing the Empress does not have.”
“Not anymore. She lost the emperor.”
Hearing the sound of their conversation, the Marquis’ expression hardened horribly, but he raised his lips as much as he could.
Then he looked at Rodelia with cold eyes. He seemed to be urging her to reply.
Rodelia finally opened the tightly shut lips. The words ‘I am not an object to satisfy him’ came up to her throat, but she had no choice but to spit out the reply her father wanted.
She squeezed her eyes shut.
“I don’t think you have gained weight. ….”
With a small murmur, the Marquis of Florence scanned Rodelia’s body slowly. He gave a satisfied smile and slowly opened his mouth.
“Remember. A fine empress is one who is wise and just a person who obeys the emperor and listens quietly.”
“You should not forget that you need to produce an heir quickly in order for your family to succeed.”
How could she forget? The Marquis had placed her in this Imperial Palace for just that reason.
Rodelia was well aware of the Marquis’ greed. So was Kane. Kane was not happy with the Marquis of Florence. Even so, she believed that the reason he made her empress was because he loved her enough to overcome his hatred.
“Don’t worry, this father will take care of it himself. Empress just brace yourself and step on the things that try to crawl up to you. Don’t look down on it.”
He warned her, as Empress, she should not show an inch of weakness.
Rodelia squeezed her trembling hands. She thought she was all better now, but it was only an illusion.
Childhood trauma did not easily disappear. It was like a time bomb that could reveal itself at any time.
She could not escape from the Marquis of Florence.
A cold sweat ran down Rodelia’s spine as she realized the truth.
“I trust you understand what I mean, my daughter. I will see you often from now on.”
After confirming Kane’s return, the Marquis quickly left his seat with a few meaningful words.
“Rodelia, you look pale, is something wrong?”
As she tightened her expression, Kane approached and whispered in a small voice. His voice was truly innocent. It was as if he knew nothing.
But Rodelia knew very well. Kane just didn’t want to get involved
and pretend not to know.
He knew very well how much Rodelia feared her father.
She recognized again what she had denied in the past. Rodelia’s green eyes darkened as she learned one by one who Kane really was.
The heart that had finally melted hardened like ice again. She smiled bitterly and slowly opened her mouth.
Did he know that there was only bitterness at the end of this smile?
“No. I just don’t feel well.”
At the start of the hunting competition, the ladies would usually sit in their reserved seats and enjoy tea time, as would the Empress Rodelia.
As she sipped her tea while listening to the conversation between the foreign delegations and the ladies, Countess Cullen whispered. A blatant curiosity arose in her eyes.
“Now, has the Empress decided who to give your handkerchief to?”
The Countess, who looked as if expecting to see Rodelia’s panic, smiled. She seemed to retort Rodelia’s entrance to the banquet with Cerdian.
Rodelia had a vague idea that some of the noble ladies would react this way, but she didn’t expect to hear it so soon.
Deciding to ignore the Countess’s obvious intentions, Rodelia replied with a dry expression.
“What do you mean?”
“No, I just thought the Empress has more than one person to give her handkerchief to.”
But Countess Cullen was more brazen than Rodelia expected.
She seemed to be over confident with Sola at her back, spewing such words without hesitation in the presence of the delegations.
In the past, she would be mesmerized by the charming figure of Rodelia.
“Countess Cullen, in the presence of the delegations, how rude of you to say that to the Empress.”
“That’s right. Please watch your language.”
Before Rodelia could say anything, her attendants stood up and expressed their displeasure.
Of course, all the ladies who were on Sola’s side, just silently drank their tea. However, they did not particularly take Countess Cullen’s side.
So she secretly stepped down.
“Is that so? I thought you had someone else to give it to besides His Majesty, My apologies, Your Majesty.”
Countess Cullen, whose little lips had been twitching for a while, apologized in a voice that sounded like it was about to crawl in.
No matter how much power she had lost, Rodelia was still the Empress. No matter what her excuses were, the Countess was in a situation where she could be punished for blasphemy against the royal family.
Rodelia’s expression hardened after receiving her formal apology. How much power had she lost? This was too much.
It was a seat with the delegations.
If things went badly, rumors might spread to other countries that the prestige of the Imperial House of Thebes had been damaged. It was going to be a big blow in many ways.
Rodelia, who had tightened her grip, moved her straight-closed lips.
“Countess, I’m sorry, but there are no seats at this table, could you please move to another table?”
The voice was stern.
Rodelia, her face expressionless, looked at the Countess. The Countess’ murky blue eyes began to visibly shake.
“Yes? But ……..”
Rodelia only smiled softly in place of a reply. The Countess looked at the ladies as if asking for help, but none of them would make eye contact.
The Countess’s face flushed red with shame. She stood up, holding her trembling hands. Her huge frame blocked the sunlight and a shadow hung over the table.
She walked away, barely taking her feet that would not fall off. She left, but Rodelia didn’t particularly try to lighten the mood, just casually drank her tea.
A somber stillness drifted over the table.
“I envy you, by the way.”
A few moments later, a cheerful voice broke the silence. However, it was accompanied by a sarcasm that did not match the innocent voice.
It was Princess Charlotte of the Kingdom of Clavia.
She seemed to be in a hurry to evoke the tense atmosphere, but perhaps she was probably intending to take control of this table.
Putting down her teacup, Rodelia looked at her with a dry expression.
“You don’t have to wear uncomfortable clothes in Thebes. We still have a lot of unnecessary decorations in our kingdom. We have to wear these long clothes, and tight corsets.”
Indeed, women in the Thebes Empire dressed relatively comfortably. There was no lack of fancy clothes, but they were not forced to wear tight or inconvenient clothes.
Was it a needless fear?
Rodelia’s expression hardened as Charlotte continued.
“But the concept of concubine is also strange.”
Princess Charlotte began to act like someone who had decided to provoke Rodelia. The sarcasm was right. Although women here were more free than in other countries, the concept of concubine was still there.
But did the Princess really need to dare to say it out loud here? She continued her words happily, despite the stiffened atmosphere around her.
“But you’re able to receive a lot of love from men thanks to it, right? It’s annoying, but what can I do? I have to hold it in.”
Rodelia’s eyes narrowed.
The more she listened, the stranger her feelings became. It was somehow unpleasant for her to ignore her like that.
‘Did I look like that, too?’
It might be so. Because she did her best to look good to Kane in the past.
Without knowing what Rodelia was thinking in her mind, Charlotte seemed very pleased with Rodelia’s reaction.
It was not that she had any ill feelings toward her, but she felt a strange sense of pleasure in embarrassing the Empress of the empire.
Charlotte believed that if what had happened at Thebes came to the ears of the King of Clavia, she would certainly be able to get one step closer to the throne.
Rodelia’s reaction to Countess Cullen was surprising, but she (Charlotte) knew that Rodelia would not do that to her, the foreign delegation.
But the timing was not good. Unexpected words leaked out of Rodelia’s lips.
“Princess Charlotte has been so careless since last time.”