Chapter 5

***

 

Ten days ago.

 

To Rodelia Florence, the man, Cerdian Eisen, was like a candle that had gone out.

 

They hadn’t seen each other again or had any special contact since he had risen to the rank of Grand Duke and come to greet her at the Imperial Palace.

 

So it was that she hadn’t even given a grain of thought to Cerdian. Now it was time for even the memory of his existence to fade.

 

“…… Empress.”

 

That was certainly the case before Viscountess Cohen, Rodelia’s matron of honor, came into the office with a serious look on her face.

 

“Yes, go ahead.”

 

Viscountess Cohen looked around a few times and pulled out a stiff piece of parchment with the Grand Duchy seal stamped on it from her pocket.

 

“Grand Duke Eisen sent it. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ve also been told that he wanted it to be conveyed secretly.”

 

“Grand Duke…?”

 

Rodelia asked with a curious expression.

 

What made him want to send a personal letter to her?

 

“I hope it’s nothing serious……”

 

Rodelia took the letter with a questioning look on her face, and Viscountess Cohen spoke in a low voice.

 

Her head was filled with wonder as her eyes reached the edge of the letter as she unfolded the parchment and read down the neat writing.

 

<I have urgent news to deliver, so I will visit you tonight when the moon sits on the Imperial Palace. And I hope this will be a secret between the Empress and I.>

 

Wrinkling her brow deeply, Rodelia read the letter over and over again.

 

What on earth was Cerdian’s intention in sending such a letter? It was difficult to understand.

 

‘What news do you have that you must keep it a secret, even from the emperor?’

 

There were some suspicions, but Cerdian was the current lord of the Grand Duchy of Eisen, who could control the imperial family. That was why, no matter how much of an Empress she was, she couldn’t recklessly refuse to meet him.

 

In other words, thanks to Grand Duke Aisen, the imperial family was as strong as it had ever been.

 

Kane couldn’t speak hastily either.

 

‘If it’s something bad, I’ll have to do my best to resolve it…’

 

After much consideration, Rodelia told Viscountess Cohen to give the Grand Duke an affirmation. And Cerdian really came to see her when the moon was high on the Empress’s palace.

 

“Have you been waiting for me?”

 

****

 

Rodelia was sitting at the tea table on the balcony drinking a cup of hot tea. It was late autumn, so the night was quite chilly, and sometimes there was a strong wind blowing.

 

The cashmere shawl over her shoulders was blown away because of the gust of wind.

 

“Huh?”

 

The shawl fell into a pile of fallen leaves without her having time to catch it.

 

Looking at the shawl helplessly, she sighed and went to her room to get her coat. She was too afraid of the dark to go down and get it.

 

Just then, a familiar voice tickled her ears from behind.

 

“Were you waiting for me?”

 

Rodelia turned around in surprise to see Cerdian leaning against the balcony railing with her shawl in his hand.

 

Her complexion flushed with surprise. She was on the third floor. There were no ladders or secret passages.

 

“How did you……?”

 

“It’s been a long time. I hope you’ve been well.”

 

Rodelia’s eyes opened wide in surprise, but Cerdian smiled slightly and inquired about her well-being. The low voice tickled her ears again.

 

‘How on earth did he get up here?’

 

Rodelia retreated with a wary look on her face. 

 

Imperial security shouldn’t be this useless….. However, she didn’t dare to say those words out loud.

 

It would be like admitting the weakness of the security by saying such a thing to someone who had already entered.

 

“Did I startle you?”

 

“…….”

 

“I don’t usually visit like this, so there’s no need to be so surprised. Did I embarrass the Empress now, since I’ve only been coming in by a different route?”

 

Her expression seemed to show all her thoughts.

 

Panicked, Rodelia’s expression hardened. After a while, Cerdian approached her with an innocent smile on his face, as if to reassure her.

 

However, her vigilance only grew stronger and she bit her lips.

 

“I must strengthen the Imperial Guard.”

 

“The Imperial Guard is innocent of any wrongdoing. I was merely using a different way.”

 

Suddenly, he draped the shawl back over Rodelia’s shoulders, which had stiffened in surprise. Startled by Cerdian’s sudden action, she drew in a short breath.

 

“Your expression reveals all your thoughts.”

 

Tapping her cheek with his long fingers, Cerdian chuckled lowly.

 

Come to think of it, it was quite difficult to manage her facial expressions in front of Cerdian. However, she could do it well in front of Kane.

 

For the first time in her life, her heart pulsed wildly. Rodelia raised her gaze with her clenched lower lip and looked straight at Cerdian.

 

As she had felt when she first met him, his face was like a well-made sculpture.

 

His hair was disheveled, unlike the well-groomed figure she had seen at that time, but that made him look more attractive. His facial structures under the moonlight were sharp and delicate at the same time.

 

 

‘I heard he enjoys hunting humans…’

 

This was a man following a rumor that he enjoyed luring people to slaughter land with his appearance that could possess anyone. Rodelia had a slight feeling that the rumor might be true.

 

Rodelia, who had been admiring his face for a while, quickly changed her expression in the cold wind that seemed to urge her to come to her senses.

 

“……what is your intention of visiting at this late hour, Grand Duke?”

 

Retreating again, Rodelia pretended to be unshaken and asked nonchalantly. She was curious about how he came in, but first she had to know his purpose of wanting to meet her in secret.

 

“The Empress should know this.”

 

He was very hesitant, despite his calm voice. Cerdian’s closed lips were moving slightly.

 

The unexpected appearance eased Rodelia’s guard a little.

 

“I don’t know why you’re so hesitant, but I’m fine, you can tell me.”

 

She interjected with a ritualistic smile. Until that moment, she had never imagined that her story would come out from between his lips.

 

“It’s about the Emperor.”

 

“Kane? No. …… Has something happened to His Majesty?”

 

It was an uncharacteristic mistake. She was so startled that she called Kane’s name without even knowing it.

 

Although she immediately realized her mistake and corrected it with the word ‘His Majesty’, Cerdian’s expression was hardened.

 

No matter how much of an empress she was, it would not have been good to see that the emperor’s name was spoken. However, it was only for a moment, and the nervousness was even greater.

 

“What is it that I have to know about His Majesty?”

 

Her voice came out quite sharp with frustration.

 

Could it be that he had a health problem? Or did some other word come up among the aristocracy?

 

All sorts of thoughts were swirling in her mind, but Rodelia soon realized that she had been worrying about useless things. Because the news Cerdian gave her was quite shocking.

 

“My sister and the Emperor are seeing each other.”

 

His voice was drier than ever, overshadowing his hesitation and nervousness. A strange sense of incompatibility wrapped around Rodelia’s body.

 

“That’s…..What does that mean….?”

 

‘I can’t believe they’re meeting.’

 

Rodelia asked back foolishly at Cerdian’s words.

 

She didn’t care for his attitude, as if she was neglecting Kane. She just focused all her attention on the word ‘meet’.

 

‘Yes, I must have misheard him.’

 

‘Why is Sola meeting Kane? ………. There’s no reason for that.’

 

Not only did Sola have no interest in politics, she had no connection to Kane.

 

Blinking her eyes and reflecting on what Cerdian had said, Rodelia’s expression hardened.

 

“No way…”

 

Rodelia’s green eyes were shaking wildly, like waves of anger.

 

But it was too early to jump to conclusions.

 

There was no reason for Kane, who only a few days ago had whispered that he loved her, to meet another woman. Cerdian’s words must have meant something else, or it was something he might have misunderstood.

 

“I’m really worried too.”

 

Rodelia shook her head.

 

“…….”

 

But the silence and affirmation in Cerdian’s quiet eyes made her crumble. Her limbs went cold and stiff, and her eyes grew distant.

 

“Really, really?”

 

A watery voice leaked out.

 

It was hard to accept the fact. Her legs, which had lost their strength, could no longer support her weight and she staggered.

 

She tried to reach out and grab the railing, but it was too late. A moment before she was about to fall down, Cerdian’s large hands firmly supported her and helped her up.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

“Thank you.”

 

Rodelia quickly pulled his hands away. She smiled and said she was okay, and sat down in the chair with her trembling legs.

 

Had she been absent minded for a long time?

 

In all likelihood, she didn’t feel like Kane would do anything to betray her. She heard that he had been so busy with his political duties that he didn’t even get proper rest…

 

“The Grand Duke must have gotten something wrong.”

 

The end of her thought was denial.

 

She might not have been confident enough to accept the truth. But what came back was his sighing consolation.

 

“I hope so too.”

 

Rodelia raised het and stared at him. Beneath Cerdian’s messy silver hair, his red eyes, reflecting the moonlight, were filled with an unsettling emotion that she did not understand.

 

“But don’t trust the emperor too much. This is all I have to say.”