Chapter 3

 

***

 

Rodelia stepped out of the office as if to escape. When she opened the door, her eyes met with the startled expression of the chamberlain.

 

She finally managed to change her expression and gave him an appropriate smile. And to avoid collapsing, she walked with more care than usual.

 

This was because she was worried that rumors would spread that there was a dispute with the emperor because of the mistress. If that happened, the only one who would be in trouble would be herself, the Empress.

 

Rodelia grabbed her chest and headed for the Empress’s palace. In her mind, she could clearly remember Kane holding Sola’s waist and kissing her.

 

While kissing, he turned his gaze to her. Her heart fell apart as she looked into his light blue eyes that never wavered.

 

As she thought of the image once more, a familiar sadness enveloped her body. Her regular breathing became more and more intense, and she burst into tears.

 

Rodelia hurried to a secluded part of the garden, lest the palace servants should discover such a wretched sight, and wept behind a pile of bushes.

 

The whole gorgeous view of the garden, which had looked so beautiful not long ago, was now superimposed on the image of Sola mocking her.

 

In contrast, she wondered if it was just an illusion that made her own shabby appearance stand out even more.

 

It was funny how the exact same scenery could change a person’s perspective on it in an instant. Rodelia let out a self-mocking laugh at her emotional state.

 

‘It’s okay. It’s no big deal.’

 

She struggled to encourage herself to do so. She had heard of this happening often.

 

She was the Empress anyway, and no Emperor in history had ever been without a concubine.

 

Yes, it was likely just a short play.

 

But…

 

Knowing this, why does her heart ache so much?

 

Despair, which had come so close, was not an emotion that left easily. Tears spilled over Rodelia’s eyes and she ended up blaming herself.

 

Did Kane really get tired of her submissive side?

 

From the moment she first met Kane, she had made a constant effort to avoid going against his moods. She tried to match every single one of his tastes.

 

She always woke up at the earliest possible hour to style her hair, adjust her appearance, and wrap her body in his favorite scent in order to look perfect.

 

It was the only way she believe that he would love her, even if it was painful for her.

 

Wasn’t that what the Marquis of Florence taught her?

 

[Look graceful and noble, but don’t look weak. Emotions should also not be easily revealed. Especially if they are feelings of weakness. You must always be a perfect and beautiful woman. You must pretend not to know even if you know, and pretend not to hear even if you heard it. That is the perfect virtue of an Empress, and the only way my daughter will not be abandoned.]

 

Rodelia closed her eyes as she contemplated the words of her father.

 

Indeed, their marriage was going well. Kane also said he liked it because she listened well.

 

But why?

 

Why on earth….

 

All the questionable emotions that had been lying in the back of her mind came flooding out at once in a voice laced with anger.

 

She cried for a while, unable to hide the burning feeling in her chest. She wasn’t dressed properly, and the cold wind was wrapping her skin, but it was so painful that she didn’t even feel the cold.

 

It wasn’t until evening, when the light was getting darker, that she finally calmed down. Rodelia slowly raised her buried head and looked around.

 

The hurried footsteps of the servants had disappeared and there seemed to be complete silence.

 

How much time had passed?

 

The maids must have been struggling to find their missing Empress.

 

“They must be worried…”

 

Now she had to hide her emotions and return to her position as Empress again. Rodelia, who was looking around with a low gaze, struggled to get up.

 

“Ugh…….”

 

She wondered if she had lost her strength from crying so much, or if her body had stiffened from the cold. She felt dizzy.

 

Rodelia faltered and fell forward. She squeezed her eyes shut, expecting to feel a fairly deep pain.

 

However, she did not feel the pain she was expecting, but only felt a warm touch.

 

“What are you doing here all alone?”

 

A voice, so low and gentle, crept into her ears. A large hand wrapped around her thin waist.

 

Her startled gaze went to the man in question. His endless red eyes intersected with Rodelia’s gaze.

 

She took a deep breath at the identity of her unexpected opponent, and her eyes opened even wider.

 

“Grand Duke Eisen…?”

 

How could he be here?

 

No, it was more that because of their embarrassing position. 

Finally coming to her senses, Rodelia parted her lips.

 

“Let go of me.”

 

She was shaking so hard it was funny to hear herself say it.

 

“Your body is very cold.”

 

But Cerdian did not let her go, as if he did not hear her words. He only murmured in concern.

 

It was only when Cerdian saw Rodelia’s furrowed brow that he let go of her body. Her gaze crossed his.

 

‘I think this happened somewhere before….’

 

Somewhat deja vu made her raise an eyebrow. But the thought was soon buried in Cerdian’s calm voice.

 

“I apologize if I’m being rude.”

 

Apologize…..it was a word that didn’t suit him.

 

If someone saw this scene, they would make a fuss, “The great Eisen said sorry?” She wouldn’t be surprised if it became more of an exaggeration and spread.

 

For some reason, she could imagine, and Rodelia inadvertently burst into a low laugh. Cerdian seemed a little embarrassed as he took it that she was laughing at him. But that was short-lived.

 

“Will you forgive me?”

 

He returned to his original indifferent face and spoke with his seductive voice.

 

Facing him, Cerdian seemed sharper and more arrogant than she remembered.

 

He was neatly dressed in his dark blue uniform, buttoned up to the neck, but the scattered silver hair that accompanied it gave him a vaguely sexy atmosphere.

 

It was then that information about him finally came to her mind one by one. He had always been a man for whom a low posture did not suit.

 

‘Be careful of the Grand Duke.’

 

It was a saying that the people couldn’t know and shouldn’t know. They have rumors trailing behind them. Some of them were things they just couldn’t talk about.

 

But what did such things have to do with her? She didn’t care if they were true or not. The only fact that mattered now was that Cerdian was Sola’s flesh and blood.

 

Remembering that made her wary of Cerdian.

 

Who knows what he was hiding behind that gentle voice? It was strange that he had appeared in such a secluded place, as if he had been waiting for her all along.

 

“Is there anything I can do but to forgive the Grand Duke?”

 

However, she couldn’t be blatantly hostile. Rodelia looked up at him with a calm smile on her lips.

 

It was an action to capture his intentions exactly. However, she couldn’t tell if he was determined to hide it or if it was genuine, but there was no slight shaking on his perfect face.

 

“Is that so?”

 

Even his short answer was filled with pure affection.

 

As an Empress, she had met many people, but Cerdian was a particularly difficult person to read. It was the same when she first met him.

 

He and Sola had come to the imperial palace for a formal greeting after their coming of age ceremony.

 

[I’m Cerdian Eisen]

 

While greeting, Cerdian’s eyes kept looking at her. She couldn’t tell what emotions contained in the gaze.

 

 That troubled her even more, so she avoided him. She felt like she shouldn’t get involved.

 

His gaze kept following her. How hard she had tried not to get caught being embarrassed.

 

Perhaps that was why, when she faced Serdian, she was reminded of that moment and her body stiffened. However, as an Empress, she must not appear weak.

 

Rodelia fiddled with her sleeves, pretending to be fine, catching her disheveled breath, and making up a voice as cold as possible.

 

“……Let’s pretend today didn’t happen. Instead, you didn’t see me either.”

 

She didn’t think he would spread gossip. But she wanted to make sure.

 

If the noble faction heard that the Empress was crying alone, it would cause a great deal of hurt.

 

“Of course.”

 

He did not show any agitation in his cold voice. He gave only a formal answer and stared at Rodelia’s cold, stiff face.

 

His brow furrowed as he looked into her eyes.

 

“Then I’ll get going.”

 

Cerdian’s expression quickly disappeared and he walked away without a second thought.

 

“I thought you were going to say something.” (Cerdian)

 

It was before the tension had dissipated that Rodelia put her hand on her forehead and exhaled.

 

“If you decided to forget about today, so forget about this too.” (Cerdian)

 

A muffled voice crossed the heavy air. Before she knew it, Cerdian came back. He leaned over and wiped the remaining tears from Rodelia’s cheeks.

 

Her body froze by Cerdian’s unannounced action.

 

“What are you doing now……”

 

“When I see a beautiful woman in sorrow, I can’t just ignore.”

 

He smiled tantalizingly at the embarrassed Rodelia. The distance was so close that his breath tickled her skin.

 

“Especially when you’re called the Flower of Thebes.”

 

It was quite a playful word, but it wasn’t unpleasant. Was it because of his cold eyes?

 

Goosebumps broke out on her back…was it because of the cold wind?

 

Rodelia closed and opened her eyes to loosely maintain a sense of normalcy. The first thing she saw was Cerdian’s raised lips.

 

“It’s just a small favor I’ve selfishly committed, so please don’t place any great significance on it.”

 

It was certainly close enough that he could have kissed her on the lips. However, he, who quickly raised his upper body, said dryly as if nothing had happened.

 

“A small favor?”

 

His demeanor was so calm that there was no discomfort, as if they were having an everyday conversation. Even the moment he took off the jacket he was wearing and put it on Rodelia’s shoulders, she kept blinking. 

 

However, Cerdian’s last words finally brought her back to her senses.

 

“Do you still believe in the Emperor?”