Chapter 11

 

****

 

“Please lend me one carriage and a blank check.” 

 

The Emperor and Empress stared at each other in amazement. As I continued, the Empress grabbed the Emperor’s arm.

 

“Now that I’m back, I want to enjoy all the things I couldn’t. I’d like to buy some jewelry and a few dresses.”

 

I gazed at the building in front of me with awe. I pulled my cloak more deeply over my head and took a step.

 

The Spade Casino. It was a noisy place. It was also a dirty place.

 

Drunken people, people cheering when they won the jackpot, people kneeling on the floor crying after losing.

 

People.

 

I made my way forward, parting the multitude of people. I huffed out a breath. It was still three hours until midnight. So I had plenty of time.

 

I could see people gathering like a swarm of bees, and I fiddled with the checkbook in my hand. It was a check issued by the bank of Jason Evanders, the owner of this casino, so there was no doubt about his identity.

 

It was a good thing, seeing as how these gambling dens were thriving when the treasury was at its lowest ebb. Jason’s power overwhelmed the Imperial family.

 

And that was why the bank that the Imperial family used was Jason’s bank.

 

The Imperial family was in debt to Jason.

 

That explained the friendship between Karen and Jason.

 

Jason provided the money and the Imperial turned a blind eye to his actions.

 

A picture had been painted.

 

People’s eyes turned to me as I walked. My fingers itched.

 

The manager of Spade, who had kept pace with me, said to me with a shrug.

 

“The gambling house is over there. Since it’s the princess who’s returning, everyone’s curious about her, so today is a bit more hectic. If you want to make a bet, hurry….”

 

Ignoring his words, I strode over to the man behind the desk. Dozens of eyes followed my steps.

 

It was as if I was an interesting spectacle.

 

“Which one do you want to bet? The stars will rise or nothing.”

 

“What is the current betting situation?”

 

“It’s overwhelmingly high on not rising.”

 

“How much?”

 

“If you bet a billion gold, you’ll get Master Jason’s diamond mine as a dividend…”

 

“Pen, please.”

 

I did a short calculation to see how many zeros would be in a billion gold. Then, without hesitation, I wrote down the numbers.

 

“A billion gold for a star.”

 

“I will give you the opportunity to change your mind now. A billion gold is a lot of money.”

 

“I changed my mind.”

 

“A wise choice. It’s better to stay afloat and have a steady stream of money ….”

 

“Ten billion gold.”

 

“What?”

 

“That’s what you call gambling, isn’t it?”

 

I took the pen from his hand again and added another zero after the countless zeros I wrote on the check earlier.

 

The man seemed like he was about to say something, but he quickly fell silent. His eyes lazily ran over the issuer of the check.

 

“I’m not here to mess around.”

 

His face went white. He seemed to confirm that the issuer was Evanders’ Bank.

 

“It’s not like you don’t know, right?”

 

I was sure he wondered what kind of a person I was, in a building owned by Evanders’, to have a blank check issued by Evanders’ Bank?

 

“I was told that this was the best casino in the Empire, but it seems that the only thing that is not the best in the Empire is the treatment of noble guests.”

 

Our gazes met, and he gave me an awkward smile.

 

“I’m sorry. Then I will do so. I hope you will keep this card in a safe place. It is a magical tool that contains your ‘choice’.”

 

The man quickly hid the check under the table and held out a black marble bill. I grabbed it tightly and turned around.

 

The loser was cold.

 

** *

 

“No, what do you mean? Your Highness, you’re almost there and you’re thinking of turning the wagon?”

 

“…”

 

“Isn’t this the same Princess Stella you’ve missed so much?”

 

The Duke did not say anything, he just silently looked at the floor.

 

“Don’t tell me…”

 

The aide said, sounding very suspicious.

 

“Is it because of the girl at the inn? She’s the Princess Stella you’ve been waiting for so long?”

 

“You talk too much, don’t you think?”

 

“Is that all you have to say?”

 

The Duke did not answer. The aide’s eyes fluttered in dismay.

 

“Are you serious, Your Highness? The reason why the Duke regained the Emperor’s crown in the first place is…. As far as I know…”

 

“That’s enough.”

 

The Duke looked out the window with his arms crossed, his face even more confused than usual.

 

He seemed to have taken a liking to a woman named Ethel.

 

It was either a fake that looked like the real one or the real one that he had painted in his heart his whole life.

 

The aide turned away with a rueful look in his eyes. For he could fully understand the confused mind of his lord.

 

In silence, the carriage headed for the Imperial Palace.

 

The place where the stars did not shine.

 

****

 

“You’re late.”

 

When I came back from the casino, I found my mother in my room.

 

When I looked at her at the tea table, I could see Joseph and Karen’s beauty from every angle.

 

It was as if I was looking at a classic masterpiece.

 

She had pale blonde hair, and green eyes. If a virtuous queen of the forest existed, she would be like that.

 

I bowed my head and greeted her. I left her question unanswered. My mother got to her feet and hugged me tightly.

 

“I didn’t think you’d come back.”

 

“…”

 

“Can you not just disappear again and make me worry?”

 

I didn’t disappear.

 

You abandoned me. I swallowed the words that wanted to come out with all my might.

 

What good would it do to talk about it now? It was already past.

 

I didn’t come back to receive compensation for what had passed.

 

 Not to go back in circles.

 

Trying to shake off her warmth, I suppressed the words I wanted to say.

 

She let go of me. Then she stared at me with tearful eyes.

 

“I was so scared that you might have gone away again.”

 

“…”

 

“Say something. Why don’t you say anything?” 

 

My mother cried out, spitting out words.

 

She looked like she was about to collapse on the floor.

 

The maid by my mother’s side silently handed her a handkerchief and she staggered a little.

 

“I’m home.”

 

My mother’s thick eyelashes quivered. They were stained with tears.

 

She sat there, unable to bear her grief. I stared at her.

 

How touching it must look, a mother and daughter reunited after ten years.

 

While my mother’s servants wiped away their tears with handkerchiefs, my mother sobbed soundlessly.

 

“I’m here.”

 

I thought it was the best paradox I’d ever uttered.

 

Even though I didn’t leave, I didn’t disappear, but in my mother’s memory, I was the one who left, the one who disappeared.

 

It was too easy for people to forget the scars they left on others. It was just so empty to think that far.

 

It was a touching story that wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t me.

 

The missing princess and her mother, reunited after ten years…

 

I closed my eyes, because closing them seemed to make me feel better.

 

I squeezed my hands together, holding back the voice that wanted to escape my mouth.

 

I felt like I wasn’t in a story where I was the main character.

 

When I opened them, I could see countless people in my eyes.

 

The cheers of the people were so loud that I could almost see the sound.

 

My heart pounded violently. A chill ran through from my head to toes.

 

I squeezed my hands, which were oozing with sweat. I inhaled deeply. 

 

“Stella.”

 

I turned my head to the side of the voice. Joseph gave me a pale smile.

 

“You can do it.”

 

I turned my gaze away instead of replying. When I looked at my mother, she put her hands together.

 

I felt the urge to ruin these people’s expectations, but I still needed the power to protect my real family.

 

So I had to be Stella Ethelanche.

 

I’ll return to them, not as Stella, but as Ethel and protect them with my position.

 

I closed my eyes and the world closed in darkness. At the same time the voices of the people died down.

 

In the infinite black abyss the voices grew louder and louder.

 

“The stars!”

 

“Hey, the stars, the stars are coming out! The stars in the sky!”

 

“It’s not just one! Finally, stars appeared in the sky above the Imperial Palace… ……! She really is the Imperial Princess! It’s the Imperial Princess!”

 

I felt a cool breeze blowing and shaking the hem of my dress.

 

The hem of my dress was smooth to the touch, and I drew in a deep breath.

 

The cheers became louder and louder.

 

Eventually, the cheers became shouts. 

 

“Ethelanche! Ethelanche! Ethelanche!”

 

Embroidered the sky of the palace, glistening with glitters. Silver stars, a myriad of glittering light sculptures. The stars, which had not been floating only in the Imperial Palace, were now filling the sky above the palace brightly. It was like a miracle.

 

It was as if the sky was opening its eyes. With the stars shining above, I opened my eyes.

 

I saw millions of people cheering for me.

 

When the strong wind shook my hair, I felt a shiver.

 

It was my first time.

 

I had never seen so many stars floating in the sky.

 

Since the day I was abandoned, I have seen my abilities grow slowly and progressively, but this was the only time I have had so many stars calling my name… ….

 

The stars whispered words to me. ‘Stella…Stella.’

 

A painful breath escaped my lips. I stood there, barely able to support my wobbly legs.

 

“The youngest princess has returned!”

 

“She’s back for the Empire! The youngest princess is alive!”

 

“Glory to the Ethelanche!”

 

“Glory!”

 

I immediately burst into tears of laughter. The stars in the sky fell in a meteor shower, as if in blessing.

 

My fingers went numb. “Whoa!” A thunderous cheer erupted.

 

I could hear it clearly now.

 

I could see. There were thousands and thousands of stars in which I floated.

 

“Stella…it’s really amazing.”

 

My mother looked thrilled. My father sat down on the floor trembling and a dazed expression on his face.

 

Joseph’s eyes caught the numerous stars and Karen stood there without saying a word.

 

I turned my gaze to the many people below the city walls. I saw Jason Evanders standing blankly in the forefront.

 

I smiled at him when our eyes met.

 

As my tear-stained vision cleared, the last thing my eyes saw was….

 

“…”

 

It was him.

 

The Duke, whom I had met in the past, Clyde. My body shuddered.

 

Certainly, it was him.

 

I felt like I was struck by lightning.

 

****

 

The black tile, which once symbolized my shabby inferiority, became the very sign of my overwhelming victory, and glittered in my hand.

 

In Jason’s parlor, I made eye contact with him and said,

 

“I thought it was an interesting idiom, Lord Evanders. I can’t believe you swore on your diamond mine.”

 

Jason Evanders, who sat across from me, looked absolutely bewildered. He smiled awkwardly.

 

I understood that smile. People smile like that when there’s no bravery involved and the situation is taxing.

 

His gaze turned to the black card in my hand.

 

It was a magic tool that contained my choice.

 

“You will no longer be able to use that idiom. It’s such a shame.”

 

“…”

 

“…If you’re done, please sign the contract. I will be grateful for the diamond mine.”

 

“Before I sign the contract….”

 

He said as he clasped his hands together. His red eyes turned to me.

 

“It’s a scam, isn’t it? You put money directly into something that the princess is involved in, and you get a dividend. This is not as the owner of a diamond mine, but as the owner of a casino …..”

 

“If you don’t give me fair compensation, I will regulate this place at the imperial level. I’ll give you three seconds.”

 

“You really do make light of such a heavy subject as regulation, don’t you, Imperial Lady?”

 

His eyes folded finely.

 

“You know why this place has been so solid until now…don’t you?”

 

“I’m sure Karen has your back.”

 

His smile faded.

 

“…It wasn’t me, you know. It’s the casino that scams the princess as well. It’s certainly a casino that a lot of people want to go to. Isn’t that right?”

 

“…Your Imperial Highness.”

 

“Don’t you understand what that means?”

 

The paper under my hand crossed the desk and was placed in front of him.

 

“You owe me.”

 

“…… Apparently you’ve just arrived at the palace, so you don’t seem to understand the rules.”

 

“Rules?”

 

I did. I looked at him with a hardened expression.

 

“That’s why I’m playing by my rules. Now.”

 

“Princess.”

 

“Even a beast cub doesn’t threaten his family. Viscount.”

 

***