Chapter 10

 

****

 

“Why can’t you hear what the stars said to you? Why! East or South, those lunatics are definitely plotting against me behind my back. So, that’s why your father has to know. Hmm? Tell me, tell me right now!”

 

“Father, I did my best. Oh, I can’t hear it. I, too, want to hear what the stars have to say, but I can’t. Not a word. I, no, I tried…….”

 

I was seven years old when I got slapped in the face.

 

My face was tingling and my ears were ringing, and my father was looking down at me with a cold stare.

 

It was miserable to see my expectations crushed by the person I wanted to be recognized by the most.

 

My father looked annoyed. But the worst part was not the physical pain.

 

“How can you call that an imperial princess! How did you give birth to such a useless person? It’s my child, how could you do that to me…?”

 

“So it’s my fault? I’ll divorce you, I’ll go back to my home country, let’s get a divorce!”

 

“You’re divorcing me! You think I’m scared? Let’s do it now!”

 

Was there anything more frightening to a child than the divorce of her parents?

 

And having to listen to it all with one wall between them.

 

With all the heavy steps back and forth, I blamed myself for all that happened.

 

It was scary.

 

Later, I developed a tolerance for fear and the horror story of the monster under my bed didn’t scare me anymore.

 

I grew up as an ugly duckling in a nest in a world of only darkness and shouts.

 

I wasn’t as pretty as my sister, and I wasn’t as brilliant as my brother.

 

The ugly duckling in the fairy tale ended up becoming a swan, more beautiful than anyone else, with a happy ending.

 

So what kind of ending awaits this ugly duckling of this country?

 

“Oh my, you really are beautiful.”

 

I could see the maid’s eyes looking at me in the mirror.

 

I blinked slowly. It was awkward. I looked like Stella, not Ethel. The one I least wanted to face. I swallowed a small sigh. The maids chattered on.

 

“You’re so beautiful. And you’re even more beautiful when you’re dressed up…”

 

“Please let me be alone.”

 

I chose the most modest clothes I could find and even changed my makeup formally.

 

The maid looked at my complexions, bowed their heads, and disappeared.

 

I stared at myself in the mirror. Yes, I had a lot to process. I knew that in order to protect my real family, I had to first get to know Jason as a person.

 

And the person who knows Jason better than anyone else was …

 

Karen.

 

I got up from my seat and took my steps. You can’t crack a rock with an egg, but it’s only a matter of bumping into it.

 

****

 

I knocked on the door and heard Karen’s voice, which sounded very upset.

 

“Go away Joseph. I’m not in the mood for conversation right now.”

 

She thought Joseph was the one who came to visit her and comfort her, as always.

 

I sighed, opened the door, and walked in.

 

“Are you crying?”

 

Karen nervously raised herself up on the couch and averted her gaze.

 

“If you come here to apologize for your rudeness, then go back. I’m in no mood to accept your apology.”

 

“Apology? What do you mean?”

 

I sat down across the couch and stared at Karen.

 

“I’m not here to apologize. I’m here to make a deal.”

 

“I’m not in the mood to listen right now…”

 

“Shall I go to the others and tell them? I can tell your parents how my sister threatened me even though I didn’t make any mistakes.”

 

Karen cringed at my emotionless voice. She gave me a bloodshot look and raised her voice.

 

“What I held and shook was the neck of a commoner. You may be Stella now, but what I touched was only a commoner, Ethel. No one cares if you’re dead! Worthless! I was the one who made you who you are! How could you…!”

 

“The hands of the commoners are the virtuous hands that sustain the empire. You told me yourself, did you not?”

 

“…”

 

“And what will you say to your parents? That I’m a commoner and you can do that to a commoner? Something like that?”

 

 “…. It’s …… Ugh.”

 

“Why are you so upset already? I haven’t even started yet.”

 

Karen swept her rich silver hair as if what she had heard was outrageous.

 

“You’ve grown a lot, haven’t you?”

 

Karen said sarcastically, her lips pulling up tightly.

 

“No matter what you say, no one believes you. Who would listen to the words of a little girl who couldn’t even understand the word “social” in her entire life? Hmm?”

 

“Are there any people in this palace who like you? I am Stella Ethelanche.”

 

“I am the first princess of the empire, and you lived outside the imperial palace for ten years, raised among the commoners……… “

 

I waited calmly for Karen to finish her story.

 

Karen stared at me with her arms crossed, unable to finish what she wanted to say.

 

“You have been pathetic and insignificant since you were born and had to be my maid. You still are. The only thing you can do is to sully your mouth with your horrible presence. If you’ve said what you have to say, then go. I’m tired.”

 

“There’s no one in the Imperial Palace.”

 

Karen raised her eyebrows as if it was obvious.

 

“But there are a lot of people who know me. I’m perfect, elegant, graceful, and she loves her family and her people.”

 

“…”

 

“Didn’t we write a contract? I have a contract in my hand with your beautiful handwriting on it. Don’t you think people will trust your handwriting?”

 

Karen’s face was clearly perplexed.

 

She didn’t seem to have forgotten the substitute princess contract that she took my life and the lives of my family as a mortgage.

 

But she didn’t expect the shackles she put on me to turn into a spear pointing at her. 

 

She couldn’t have imagined it.

 

“Why, there is proof, sister.”

 

“…”

 

“Oh, Why don’t you have your people search my room right now? Go ahead, tell me. Hurry up and bring me the paper containing the fact that you threatened the lives of three innocent commoners, if you don’t want your parents to find out from me.”

 

“You…….”

 

“I’m glad because sister is a person who loves and wants to protect her ridiculous and dying fame.”

 

“….”

 

“When we left the inn, my sister squeezed my arm. When I pretended to be in pain, she let go of my arm, looking at the faces of the soldiers. I mean, your act of pretending to be good is amazing. My sister came to the den of the commoners who were so abominable, and the few elite soldiers she brought with her so as not to make a scene couldn’t be the closest entourage.”

 

“…”

 

”In other words, there’s no card you can play in this situation. You know, I’ve got a firm grip on your weakness.”

 

Unable to say anything, Karen clutched the hem of her skirt with her head down.

 

I asked, staring at her with my arms crossed.

 

“I have one question for you…”

 

“…”

 

“Who is Jason?”

 

“Why would I tell you ?”

 

Karen sat up as if she didn’t need to answer.

 

I turned around to leave when I heard a high pitched voice behind me.

 

“Evanders!”

 

I turned back and sat down on the couch with my legs crossed, and stared at her, Karen avoided my gaze as she bit her bottom lip.

 

“His full name is Jason Evanders. He is a talented businessman and the only son of the third generation of the Evanders family. He goes by the name King of the Underworld and is also the owner of the largest casino in the empire, Spade. …Most of all, he is famous for his diamond mines in Sutherland.”

 

“Diamond mines?”

 

“It’s his main source of revenue. It’s also a family heirloom that has been passed down in the Evanders family for a long time. Of course, there are many other businesses that he does, but the diamond mine accounts for about 40% of his revenue share….So when he makes a sure oath, he would say, ‘I swear it in my diamond mines of Sutherland,’ which is the idiom of those who admire him.”

 

“I see. Thank you, Karen. The information was helpful.”

 

I expressed my gratitude, but it was only a pretense that was less than respectful. The moment Karen avoided my gaze, the clock struck and announced the hour. It rang a total of seven times, it was exactly five hours before midnight arrived.

 

“Don’t be too happy.”

 

Karen said, looking at the ground with a distressed expression.

 

As she leaned her head back and met my eyes, a bright glow of hatred flashed through her green eyes.

 

“Because you won’t be able to pass the final test to make the stars in the sky rise. It doesn’t matter if you’re the real Princess or not, you were a fake since the moment you were born. You will always be a fake, and when everyone turns their backs on you, I will hold you accountable for your rudeness.”

 

“…”

 

“In five hours you will see, Stella Ethelanche. The price of being arrogant in front of me that you dare to shame the Imperial Princess will be expensive.”

 

“Alright.”

 

I didn’t say much.

 

“I’ll see you then.”

 

I heard Karen’s empty laugh behind me.

 

As I walked out of the room, I felt eyes on me from the other side.

 

Joseph, who was walking this way, stopped and wanted to talk to me, but I nodded and quickly moved away.

 

He was going to see Karen to comfort her.

 

I was about to pass him, but I heard his voice.

 

“Stella.”

 

I stopped at the voice calling my name.

 

“Please speak.”

 

I said quietly without looking back, and then I heard neat footsteps behind me. When I turned around, what I saw was the face I had loved so much when I was younger.

 

I had always wished for the attention of the “gentle” Joseph, so much that I secretly hid in the sword training hall to watch him every day.

 

But now I understand.

 

All he did was stand on the sidelines and give me his time and affection as if he was doing me a favor.

 

He was a saint who wanted to get drunk on his own kindness, not his family’s.

 

“You weren’t in the room, so I was worried.”

 

He was a righteous bystander.

 

“I’m fine.”

 

The love he gave was not pure warmth, but only sympathy.

 

It didn’t solve the problem, but it was a temporary warmth, like a scab on a wound.

 

But there was no responsibility to stand by me for the rest of my life, making me suffer more…

 

“Please don’t come into my room.”

 

“It’s been 10 years.”

 

He stopped me in my tracks.

 

“You have lived for ten years………”

 

I tried to walk past him when he stood in front of me again.

 

At that time, I heard voices. It was the voices of the maids.

 

“Did you hear? There’s a huge bet in Spade. Master Jason has placed a bet on the Sutherland Diamond Mine.”

 

“The bets are really interesting. They bet to see if Princess Stella will really be able to raise the stars.”

 

“Stella.”

 

“Please step aside.”

 

I walked past him and went over to the maids who were chatting.

 

“I want to hear what you were saying again.”

 

The maids looked at me once and then looked at each other.

 

***