Chapter 17

 

***

 

A daughter who is not married in the Bellvic Empire is the property of her father, and she must not be reckless before he gives her to another man and has her wedding night.

 

And Karen was a person who cared very much for that old fashioned formality.

 

Karen’s brow furrowed as she watched Clyde cross the hallway with Stella in his arms. An imperial Princess should not be ‘reckless’ like that, and Karen moved like a storm and knocked on the door of her father’s office.

 

It was, of course, to correct Stella’s such slovenly conduct.

 

“Father, you won’t believe what I just saw. Stella, she’s…”

 

Her father was lost in thought. The unusual atmosphere and the air that seemed to tighten around his neck to keep him from speaking left Karen in silence, waiting for him to speak.

 

Karen’s eyes shook as the Emperor slowly turned his head to look at her.

 

It was the first time she had seen his eyes like this.

 

“You said you picked her up on the street.”

 

“Father….”

 

“What street did you pick her up?”

 

“Well…..”

 

Karen faltered, unable to answer. There was no way she could know the name of a city where a bunch of commoners were languishing.

 

There were no common street names that she could lie about. She didn’t know any of them.

 

“Get out of my way, you useless thing!”

 

“Father. I’m your daughter!”

 

***

 

It’s funny that people are pleading with me now.

 

I wanted their love so much that I ended up being an empty shell.

 

There’s no Stella they painted.

 

With one move I became the real thing. The “real princess” that I struggled to be as a child, the “real princess” that I wanted to be so badly. 

 

Thus, if my existence is a matter of ability, then so be it.

 

It’s fake and real, and maybe there was no Stella in the first place.

 

It may just be that Ethel is really there.

 

Nonetheless, these people persistently seek Stella from me.

 

They ask me to trace my painful past just to dwell on it.

 

Because they finally need Stella.

 

“I can’t let her go like this. Duke.”

 

The flag with the imperial seal fluttered proudly in the blue sky.

 

The guards covered the gates of the palace, and I stood next to the Duke, watching the Empress. The Empress looked at me coldly, as if she couldn’t make even the slightest concession.

 

“One year.”

 

“…”

 

“Just wait one year, Duke. I’m asking as a mother, not an empress. Ten years we’ve missed Stella. Now that Stella is back, she should enjoy everything she can as a Princess. Shouldn’t you give us a chance to make up for it, even if we’ve become emotional because of the situation?”

 

The Empress’s trembling hands grabbed mine.

 

“Shouldn’t you also listen to your bad mother’s words before you go?” 

 

Looking into the Empress’s eyes, I could see that all that was left was reconciliation and happiness.

 

She didn’t seem like someone who would harm me, and she just wanted to apologize for being an immature mother in my childhood.

 

But I didn’t want her warmth. I didn’t want to accept her embrace.

 

Is it my fault?

 

The Emperor approached from afar. A ragged breath escaped from between his lips, as if he’s been running for a while.

 

“It would be wrong if I asked you not to leave, wouldn’t it?”

 

“…”

 

“Don’t ask anything.”

 

The Empress stared at her husband, wondering if the conditions the Emperor had set forth were unbeatable. Nevertheless, the Emperor said sternly.

 

“Give us a year, or even just six months…”

 

“…”

 

“If not caring is what you want, I will listen. Whatever you want to hide, I will hide it under my sky. Will you be a useful doll? Okay. I’d like that. You can be a doll and stay at the Imperial Palace.”

 

Be a doll and stay in the Imperial Palace. To live luridly, forgetting my days, and laugh and ease their guilt beside them. Do they know how cruel those words are?

 

I don’t know.

 

They were too immature and inexperienced to be the parents their children wanted them to be.

 

So they speak with urgency, with whatever words they can grab to capture the moment.

 

They wanted me to be there for them.

 

If I nurse their wounds for six months, accept their apologies that I don’t want to hear, and live like a doll….

 

Are they going to be satisfied?

 

I wanted to ask, but I didn’t.

 

Because there is something more beautiful when you hold it firmly in your heart than just grazing your lips.

 

“Let me ask you one thing.”

 

I looked at my parents, who had given birth to me.

 

“If I were incompetent, would you two treat me the same?”

 

“But you aren’t.”

 

The Emperor took my hand as he spoke.

 

“You are Stella Ethelanche, the one and only Star Princess of the Bellvic Empire. I will make sure that you feel it every moment of your stay in this imperial palace. I promise you if you stay, I’ll do everything for you.”

 

What was truly amazing was that I had decided to accept their offer at this moment.

 

The emperor’s answer was so gratifying that it made me chuckle.

 

‘But you aren’t incompetent. You are the one and only star Princess.’

 

The moment I heard this answer, I knew. I would never forgive them, even if my heart was weakened by their mistakes.

 

I was too young to have spent the night with such a festering heart, and I couldn’t forgive them, even if I was sorry.

 

I hadn’t held my mom’s hand in a long time, but it was a little rougher than the last time I held it.

 

It was so warm that I wanted to leave right now.

 

The longer I stayed, I might feel sorry for them.

 

I was afraid I might forgive them.

 

I was afraid I would be tamed by the love they gave me.

 

I thought I had to be their foolish second daughter, to be tamed and mocked.

 

But it was a pointless worry.

 

If I only pretended to be grateful for the meaningless golden lacquer and the sweet candies they would give away, in six months…

 

I would be free.

 

“You’ll listen to whatever I want?”

 

“Anything you want.”

 

“Then…”

 

I told them.

 

“… After six months, forget me. No matter where I go or what I do, don’t look for me.”

 

There will be one perfect ending to this skit. I shall go where the wind blows and they will forget me. And the ugly duckling imperial princess, who escaped the royal family, will be alone again.

 

With that ending this time, I will be happy.

 

Yes.

 

I will not return to my beloved family, for I do not know if the emperor is honest enough to keep his promise.

 

My daily life with Mary, Hans and Daisy, whom I loved so much, had to be there.

 

I can recall those memories perfectly.

 

I will make sure that they can enjoy that everyday life happily.

 

There is nothing I want to take away from the people I love.

 

Just as every little detail of daily life was important to me, so it is to them.

 

I don’t like the idea of the mass of blessings that took care of me becoming a threat to them.

 

All the glitters in the world become natural one day when they reach it.

 

My ability will also be a blessing for them.

 

*******

 

After everything was sorted out, I met Clyde in the parlor again. 

 

He was waiting for my reply to his proposal of marriage.

 

We didn’t have much to talk about. After a few moments of silence, he asked me to marry him again. I looked at him silently.

 

“You told me that I don’t belong to anyone.”

 

He nodded.

 

“You said you wanted my permission, not my parent’s.”

 

Then I asked if he could let me go.

 

He said he wanted to disappear to a quiet place where there is no news of the Imperial family.

 

I laughed a little when he said that.

 

His gaze followed my smile for quite some time.

 

He tried to say something for a while, but stopped.

 

I still remembered his words as he scratched his head, got out of his seat and approached me.

 

“I’m sure I’ll see your face at least once a week instead.”

 

He said with a growl.

 

“Please give me that much of a chance.”

 

His hand’s muscle was tight when he held my chair.

 

“Only if I can be useful to Your Highness, you’ll remain at my side.”

 

I had to say, “Okay.” His gaze looked so earnest.

 

I said I would, and promised him that I would see him every Monday.

 

After I saw him off, I spent some time watching the beautiful vase cast a shadow and slowly tilt to the side. When I first heard rumors of Clyde on the street, I wondered if the imperial family would gain their positions again.

 

I wondered if there would ever come a day when I would consider the man who had torn everything apart useful.

 

*** 

 

“Why are you so upset, Princess?”

 

His voice was supple and gentle. People would even stop and turn around if they heard it.

 

Jason tilted his head and looked at Karen.

 

“Why?”

 

“He said I’m useless.”

 

Karen covered her lips and said nervously, shaking her small white fists.

 

“I’m the useless one, he said. I’ve never heard such a thing in my life.”

 

“How did you feel?”

 

“Do you think I came here to get psychological help?”

 

“She’s been hearing that all her life.”

 

“She?”

 

“Princess Stella.”

 

Karen burst out laughing at the words.

 

“It’s true what I’ve been told, isn’t it? Jason Evanders, you turned to my sister’s side.”

 

“It’s not like that Princess.”

 

Jason chuckled. Karen’s eyes wavered as he slurped his whiskey.

 

She bit her bottom lip and waited for Jason to speak.

 

“I’m just rubbing shoulders with my big shot client.”

 

“A big..client?”

 

“Yes. It’s not just me.”

 

“What do you mean, Jason Evanders, you’re not the only one?”

 

“Oh, my client won a huge bet and returned all the remaining dividends, minus my gold mining fee, to the nobles. It was a lot of money. It’s really genius of her to come up with such an idea.”

 

“What?”

 

“Have you heard of the Stella Ethelanche Foundation?”

 

Karen couldn’t say anything to those words. After a moment, she stammered.

 

“What kind of foundation is that?”

 

“You’ll know when you see it.”

 

Jason smiled obliquely.