*Bolded text is either the past events or the character’s memory*
“Ethel left here one day. She didn’t even leave a word about where she was going.”
There was sadness on the innkeeper’s face who said so.
“She’ll pay with her life if she lied to the Duke!” The aide said loudly.
The Duke glared at him.
He squeezed his misshapen hands together as his animal instincts seethed. It would be really easy if he could do it his own way.
It would be even easier if he could chop off the annoying aide’s head.
Despite the impulse that surged through him, the Duke was cautious about looking for Ethel.
“Do you really don’t know anything?”
“Yes, we really don’t know anything. Hans and I left the inn for a while, and when we came back ….”
He managed with the information he gained by immediately drawing his sword.
He wanted to narrow the siege somehow and find her.
He hated himself for not being able to do anything when it seemed he was finally this close to her.
The Duke stopped thinking and returned to the present.
A trembling hand fastened his cufflinks. There were countless questions in his head.
Who was it? Who was this Ethel woman he had met in the past?
Why did that woman look so much like Princess Stella standing before all the people?
If Ethel was not Stella, where had Edel disappeared to?
The aide, who had been sorting through papers in the corner, stepped toward the door, which slammed noisily.
The glamorous door closed with a loud bang.
Like all the people of the empire, the Emperor could not forget that day.
The day where the glittering jewel stars filled the sky.
He was a man who did not believe in miracles, but his daughter, whom he thought was most incompetent, proved him wrong.
The still raw voices of the people ripped into his ears. “Ethelanche! Ethelanche!” The Emperor gasped for breath.
There was a simple reason why he had sat on the cold floor that day in his memories.
For with his eyes he had seen firsthand the resurrection of the imperial family.
He had never felt such a shiver before, not when Duke Clyde Delanhill took back the Imperial Palace, not when the crown was placed on his head again. But..
It was truly a miracle that the child had returned. A child he thought was dead came back.
In addition to that, the child returned with great ability.
The silly, inadequate figure he saw before was nowhere to be found.
He looked up at the sky in a daze, and in that moment, he thought to himself, “Yes, this is it. This is what it feels like.”
All the people were cheering for her, and the roars were so deafening that it shook the ground and startled the sky.
The “real princess” he hoped for had returned.
The real one, the one he had wanted all his life.
Not the weak little girl with no skills and an intimidated appearance.
The Empire’s proudest second Princess, Stella Ethelanche, was at his side.
From that moment on, he was submerged in the thought of how he should welcome his returned daughter, and how he should give back the crown that he had taken from her.
However, he couldn’t help but be disappointed at the lack of things he could do.
How nice it would have been if the child had manifested her ability a little earlier and beat the nobles with the support of the people ten years ago.
The Emperor touched his goatee as he reconsidered, “Since this is how it happened anyway, there is no need to look back.”
Stella was now his precious child, no different from Joseph and Karen, but the guilt he had always felt weighed on Stella’s side of the scales. He decided he had to treat her well.
The Emperor had just taken back the throne and his lost daughter returned, so this all seemed wonderful.
However, he didn’t know things were not as good as he thought.
As he was about to leave his seat, the Emperor quieted his floating mind, there was a knock at the door.
Eventually realizing that it was Karen, the Emperor managed to hide his irritation.
“Have a seat.”
Only then did he remember that he had called for Karen.
He parted his lips quietly, suppressing his disappointment.
“The reason I called you….”
“I know, father. It’s because of Stella. It’s a good thing I found Stella early and brought her back. A princess should enjoy the most precious things in the Imperial Palace… She would have been rolling in the streets and no one would have known.”
“Yes. I was just thinking about…”
“If you want to say thank you, you can leave it at that, I was just being a good daughter and doing what a sister should do.”
With a saintly look on her face, Karen smiled like an angel.
The Emperor, on the other hand, did not even look into Karen’s eyes, which were sparkling with anticipation, but seemed to be thinking of something. It was only after a while that he opened his mouth .
And what he said was not what Karen expected.
“Where did you find Stella? How does she….?”
“Did someone take care of her? Give her food? I have to compensate them. Was it a nursery? A sanctuary? Or where? I’ll give them a title, land, and gold…”
“I picked her up off the street. Father.”
Karen nodded, and the Emperor wrinkled his brow as if he was thinking about something.
“Don’t worry too much about it, father. Stella is back to her family now.”
Karen reached out and touched her father’s hand, but the Emperor said nothing. He just stood up and walked out the door.
Karen chuckled as she slumped down and stared into her teacup.
“I knew this would happen.”
It was a foregone conclusion.
The guilt alone was enough reason for her family to take an interest in Stella.
However, since the child had demonstrated her abilities in front of the entire empire, what was she supposed to do?
Karen’s lips quivered. It was the first time she felt so helpless.
The emotions that she never had suddenly surged through her body.
She felt her throat tighten as if she was going to vomit.
“I can’t believe I’m in the same class as that girl……”
Karen’s shoulders shook as she wrapped her arms around herself.
“I still have Jason Evanders.”
He’s a man of unrivaled wealth, and he’s very smart.
Although he was not a perfect alliance, and sometimes she felt sick seeing his beautiful fake face, still, he was on her side.
Thinking if she treats him well, he will continue to be cooperative.
‘If I tell Jason, that is…..’
He’ll handle it just fine.
Karen breathed out, trying to escape the unfamiliar perplexity.
When an urgent knock was heard, Karen, who appeared human* for a while, went and greeted the person with the perfect smile that everyone was familiar with.
(*It meant that she showed her emotions like a human being for the first time.)
Karen collected her expression and opened the door.
The three viscountesses that had been following Stella, stepped inside the room, bowed their heads, and approached Karen.
The smile on Karen’s lips slowly faded after one of the viscountess whispered something in her ear.
“Stella met Jason.”
“It wasn’t just a meeting, Princess. Master Jason escorted Princess Stella to the parlor, where he served her the finest tea and ….”
“Jason is kind to everyone.” Karen said sternly.
“…I heard that he escorted Princess Stella to her carriage.”
That arrogant man that Karen knew would never escort a Lady to the carriage.
Even she, the first Princess of the Empire, was no exception.
Jason would put on a kind and polite face in front of her, but as soon as the business was over, he simply bid her farewell without sincerity. The next thing he did was to escort her out of his place without giving her a chance to say anything else, as if she was a piece of luggage. As if to tell her to get lost quickly.
‘Jason Evanders, you bat-sh*t crazy bastard.’
Karen cursed inwardly, then spoke.
“Thank you, Becky.”
“My name is Anne.”
Of course, Karen wouldn’t care enough to know if it was Anne or Becky.
Karen suppressed her anger and corrected her words.
“I’m sorry. I’m tired so I made a mistake.”
“Thank you, Your Highness. I admire you. I want to become a lady of elegance and grace like Your Highness someday…”
The girl, who looked very young, shyly confessed her dream.
Karen forced a smile as she looked at the girl. But her eyes were not smiling.
“Of course you’ll be one day. Thank you, Becky.”
“But my name is….”
“Have a nice day.”
Karen walked past the girl with a hardened expression, without giving her a chance to speak. The girl stared blankly at Karen’s back.
The remnants of Karen’s freesia perfume seemed to linger in the air, and the girl took a deep breath.
‘How kind the Princess is.’
The girl gazed blankly at the closed door.
The emperor was a cowardly monarch, but that didn’t mean he was a stupid man.
He still didn’t honestly believe Karen’s words that she had picked up Stella on the street.
He began to wander in search of traces. If there was a benefactor for his daughter, he would compensate.
Stella received a blank check from him, so it was very likely that she had spent it on her benefactors.
However, the Emperor’s prediction was twice wrong.
Evanders’ Bank had delayed replying about the money his daughter had spent.
It certainly meant that a large force was intervening.
Simply because you give money to the commoners of a town does not mean they will delay their response.
And there was one more thing.
His daughter did not communicate with anyone except Jason Evanders. He wondered why.
“Is that all you have?”
The emperor asked the chief of staff the fact that he already knew.
“I’m afraid so, Your Majesty.”
“…Think again, chief. Stella spent 10 years outside the palace walls. Don’t you think there was a benefactor? There must be someone who clothed her, fed her, and gave her a place to sleep. Did they exchange letters?”
“Princess Stella has sent one letter so far. Your Majesty. It was a letter to Lord Jason Evanders. Seeing as how the Evanders’ Bank is so tight-lipped about it, I’m sure the use of the check is not unrelated to Jason Evanders.”
“I’m sorry, but I doubt that Princess Karen really picked up Princess Stella from the street. I know it’s a sin to say this, but…”
“It’s worth questioning the substitute. Considering the friendship between Princess Karen and Lord Jason Evanders, it would have been easy for the two of them to find a woman who resembled the second Princess. If Princess Stella was picked up on the street, this result doesn’t match up with Princess Karen’s words.”
“The stars have risen.”
The Emperor stared at the cheif with frosty eyes. It was so intense that the chief could not even raise his head.
“And the child remembered things that Karen didn’t know.”
“It’s my child.”
The chief did not dare to decipher the glint of emotion in the emperor’s voice.
It was seemingly of anger, sadness, longing, fear, and confusion.
The chief was afraid of the emperor being driven by such emotions.
It was exactly like the face of the tyrant he saw ten years ago.
The emperor who was more afraid of treason than anyone else…
The emperor, who wasn’t incompetent, but that didn’t mean he was perfect enough to overcome the nobles, destroyed anything that threatened him with that face.
“Then who lied to me?”
The face of the emperor of ten years ago, soaked in blood and stricken with madness, now appeared superimposed on his face.
The chief’s hands trembled as he held the documents.
‘Did she really pick Stella off the street? Karen, the girl wouldn’t lie to me, would she?’ The Emperor thought.
“If Princess Stella attempts to contact anyone she considers a benefactor, I will inform you immediately, Your Majesty.”
“That’s it? Get her to buy a lot of dresses, shoes, and jewels that would make her happy right now! It’s been a long time since she came back to the palace, so she should be able to do at least that!”
“But the treasury… No, I’ll tell the head maid.”
It was then that the Emperor was convinced that something was wrong.
The child that Karen had picked up on the street sent only one letter, rather than contacting anyone who might be a benefactor.
It was to Jason Evanders. As if she needed to see him, as if he knew him well.
It couldn’t be true that the child was picked up off the street.
Something was strange about Stella.
She deliberately ignored him, but the way she looked at him was different.
The girl who had craved his affection and attention as a child was gone.
Now he seemed to have finally got the powerful, beautiful and ‘real’ youngest princess he had hoped for. The one who would bring wealth and strength to the empire……
The Emperor’s expression was filled with an indescribable impatience.