Chapter 9

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“Empress, tell me. Did you invite the Grand Duke to the party? Have you been talking to him?”

 

 

As if Kane wanted her to deny what Cerdian had said, he gave Rodelia a sharp look.

 

Rodelia frowned involuntarily. He looked so ugly, so caught up in his inferiority complex. Maybe that was why she somehow didn’t want to do what he wanted. If it went on like this, the Emperor would lose his pride, but didn’t she lose her pride first because of him?

 

And no matter what the intention was, it wasn’t Kane, but Cerdian who was the only one who was on her side when everyone turned their back on her.

 

“Yes.”

 

It wasn’t long before she decided what to do. Rodelia ignored Kane and replied calmly with an elegant smile on her lips.

 

She had a showy attitude. With an amused smile, Cerdian held out his hand to Rodelia. It was quite childish behavior.

 

Smiling, she took Cerdian’s hand in hers. Her heart was overwhelmed by the deviation that she had never done before.

 

“Your Majesty, then, have a good time with Sola.”

 

Leaving Kane with a bewildered look on his face behind, Rodelia left the gazebo with a graceful walk. She was still holding Cerdian’s hand.

 

She felt Kane’s blatant gaze behind her, but didn’t look back. An amused smile crept across her face.

 

‘Consider it a small revenge for humiliating me.’

 

****

 

“So, where were we?”

 

Rodelia sent the maids away and walked amicably with Cerdian, exchanging small talks. No, she made it look that way. In fact, she just talked all by herself and he was just standing there.

 

“You can stop now, they won’t be able to hear the conversation here.”

 

“Oh….”

 

Cerdian’s low, laughing voice echoed through the air, tickling her ears. Her face flushed with embarrassment, Rodelia quickened her pace a little.

 

It was Cerdian who first broke the silence between them after such a long walk.

 

“Do you think it was just talk?”

 

“…… what?”

 

She knew what Cerdian meant when he asked calmly, but she pretended not to know.

 

“About the Emperor.”

 

But Cerdian didn’t seem to be willing to let it go. He stubbornly picked at her wound.

 

As a result, the mind that was relieved by her little revenge on Kane sank to the floor again. Rodelia’s body began to tremble slightly as she stopped.

 

She couldn’t say with any confidence, “Yes.” She really didn’t know what her feelings were anymore.

 

It was true that she still loved Kane. But it hurt too much to love him, and she didn’t know how long she could keep feeling this way. She wasn’t sure if Kane would ever come back to her.

 

No, even if he did come back, would her wounded heart be able to fully accept him?

 

Heartbroken, Rodelia fiddled with her sleeves and hesitated, while Cerdian, who had been watching her closely, slowly opened his mouth.

 

“The Empress is always touching her sleeves when she’s anxious.”

 

Rodelia stopped. It was a fact that even Kane, her former lover, did not know. On the other hand, Cerdian, whom she had not met for long, noticed it immediately.

 

‘Kane was never this interested in me.’

 

Soon after, she smiled bitterly and replied slowly.

 

“…Is that so?”

 

“If you can’t answer, I’ll change the question. Do you still need my help?”

 

She raised her gaze to face Cerdian’s red eyes. When they made eye contact, he folded the corners of his eyes neatly and gave her a gentle smile. As if to tell her to say yes.

 

Rodelia asked herself a question.

 

‘Do I need him?’

 

She thought about it for a while and the answer was ‘yes’. She desperately needed his help. But she didn’t want to hold his hand voraciously in a situation where she wasn’t even sure if Cerdian had any other intentions.

 

And she was the Empress and he was the Grand Duke. 

 

“No.”

 

Pretending to be unconcerned, Rodelia tightened her trembling heart and replied with a deliberate smile. She had learned today that she was no match for Sola on her own. She knew that she would just end up spinning around in the same place.

 

But she didn’t want to accept the helping hand. This once was enough. 

 

It was a mere trifle and her pride was something, but it was what was necessary. Cerdian was Sola’s brother, and Rodelia was an Empress who would never get along with Sola.

 

“…….”

 

Cerdian’s reaction to her answer was nonchalant. It seemed that he had already expected it.

 

Satisfied with the response, Rodelia spoke up again with more force.

 

“I don’t need your help. Grand Duke Cerdian.”

 

“The Empress is too wary.”

 

“There have been too many people who have approached me deliberately.”

 

“I’m not such a bad person. I have taken a liking to the Empress.”

 

Cerdian smiled. It was a beautiful smile of his that seemed to possess her. She had to pull her heart together tighter.

 

“So you thought I was going to ask for help from you, Princess Eisen’s brother?”

 

“I hope so.”

 

Cerdian replied calmly, even with the slight excitement in his voice.

 

“You knew I would refuse. Didn’t you?”

 

“Because not everything is going as planned.”

 

His voice was gentle, but oozing arrogance somehow, and his words shook Rodelia to her core. Because Kane’s heart, which seemed to have only her for the rest of his life, also flowed in an unexpected direction.

 

Tears began to slowly fill her eyes. It must not have been his intention, but he had been using words that would shake her.

 

Rodelia dropped her gaze to the ground, because if she faced Cerdian, she was really going to burst into tears.

 

She hurriedly calmed herself down and let out a deep breath, and continued speaking firmly.

 

“Why are you doing this to me? There is no reason for the Grand Duke to help me for no reason at all.”

 

“Reasons. …… Actually, I don’t understand myself either. Let’s just say for now that it’s because I don’t want to see you sad.”

 

She was momentarily confused by Cerdian’s voice, which seemed so calm. She couldn’t understand it. He said it as if he really had feelings for her………. It was really strange.

 

“I understand that you didn’t believe me and that you can’t hold my hand easily.”

 

“…….”

 

“Is that what emotions are for?”

 

He spoke calmly again with a seductive look. How could he make her heart so complicated while talking like he didn’t know how she was feeling?

 

Finally changing her expression, Rodelia looked up and stared at him in the eyes.

 

“You’re right. I trusted His Majesty too much. No matter how many people around warned me about him, I knew he was the only one who was different.”

 

“Of course…”

 

“But that doesn’t mean I need your help.”

 

Cerdian, who had a smile on his face, showed a sour expression, as if he thought Rodelia would give an affirmative answer. However, it was at that moment. He locked his eyes on Rodelia again.

 

“Didn’t you hold my hand just now? You need my help.”

 

“…. Just because I wanted to escape that situation badly doesn’t mean I’m in the same boat as you. So I hope you drop that idea.”

 

Rodelia’s lips quivered when he asked.

 

“What if the Emperor doesn’t come back?”

 

“That’s not something the Grand Duke has to worry about. It’s something I have to deal with.”

 

“Do you really think so?”

 

Again…like this. 

 

When Rodelia, panicked by his wistful voice, gulped in her breath, the cold winter wind that was incompatible with the scorching sunshine filled her lungs.

 

Her mind was growing fuzzy, but she couldn’t just side with Cerdian like that. She clutched her consciousness tightly and answered firmly.

 

“Of course.”

 

“…….”

 

“I already told you. I don’t want your help, and I doubt I’ll ever need it.”

 

She acted as if not holding Cerdian’s hand was the last thing on her mind, as if it was her last remaining pride.

 

Cerdian had expected that she would not fall easily. But in the end, he thought she would ask for help. He really thought she would fall for him.

 

“Not everything goes as you expect.”

 

Wasn’t that what he said to her earlier. Cerdian couldn’t help but laugh in vain at Rodelia’s continued words.

 

”Not even a little bit.”

 

****

 

After Cerdian left.

 

When she returned to the Empress’ palace, Rodelia squeezed her throbbing head and thought about what she needed to deal with.

 

“I have doubts, but how should I catch them?”

 

It was strange how everything happened at the same time, from the fact that Sola had thrown a tea party to the time when the winter flowers were gone. And that strange sense of otherness became more certain when she faced Sola in the garden of Stella Palace. That delightful look of them flickered in front of Rodelia’s eyes.

 

Surely someone must have informed Sola of Rodelia’s tea party plans. And that person was most likely in the Empress’s Palace, her closest aide.

 

All the way back to the Empress’s palace, she kept thinking about how she should deal with the traitor. It was painful to be in a situation where she had to suspect all the maids to catch the culprit, but she had to catch him. She couldn’t let herself be pushed around by Sola any longer.

 

The first thing Rodelia did was to call the head maid, Viscountess Cohen. It was her who took care of the party, so it was natural to think she was the first suspect. With a cold expression on her face, Rodelia opened her mouth.

 

 

“It seems that one of the maids is Princess Eisen’s spy.”

 

They were having tea time as usual, and Rodelia managed to hurry things along. It was partly to try to find out about the Viscountess.

 

“Are you suspecting me?”

 

The Viscountess stopped and placed the teacup on the table with a clink. She had extreme cautious manners in each of her normal actions, but it was out of character.

 

She seemed disgusted by the suspicion. She moved her trembling lips still and looked at Rodelia with a sad look in her eyes.

 

“Quite frankly, you’re right. It’s not just you who are suspicious. In fact, everyone is under suspicion.”

 

Sighing deeply at the complexity, Rodelia’s green eyes grew darker and darker. It wasn’t easy for her to be in a situation to say this either. It wasn’t something she felt comfortable accusing the maids who were her own people. Especially Viscountess Cohen, who she relied on the most.

 

Looking serious for a long time, Viscountess Cohen finally opened her mouth.

 

“I understand your suspicion since a lot of bad things happened recently, but I’m really not. If you ask me to show you proof, I don’t have it, but you know how much I respect the Empress.”

 

“I hope it’s not you either.”

 

The only thing that flowed between them, along with the silence, were the occasional sighs.

 

“Is there anyone you suspect?” (Rodelia)

 

After a few moments of silence, Rodelia opened her mouth. There was a faint tear in Viscountess’ eyes for some time. At Rodelia’s question, Viscountess Cohen, who had taken a handkerchief from her pocket and was wiping the corners of her eyes, hardened her expression as if she remembered something.

 

“Oh, there’s one thing I remembered. Actually, …….”