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Whenever a cool breeze blew, the petals on the trees fell like rain on the wind.
The sight of the pink petals fluttering in the wind was spectacular.
“Recently, the number of foreigners has increased significantly in the capital. I heard that there are more things to see on the streets, especially theater and circuses. Have you ever been there?”
Payne looked at me with a smile as he spoke.
My reflection was reflected in his finely curved eyes.
I replied with a blank smile.
“Is that so? I don’t know because I’ve been confined to my house for the past few days.”
The refreshments on the table were delicious, and it was relaxing to see the beautiful scenery in front of me.
I silently watched Payne drinking his tea.
I couldn’t hide my wonder.
While the Crown Prince was also busy and soaked in fatigue, there was no way that Payne would be this idle.
The fact that he invited me, whom he knew for a short time, to chat and watch flowers, was discerning.
I thought that Payne invited me to his palace today because he had something to say.
However, he kept talking about mundane things. I couldn’t understand it.
“Can we take a walk?”
I knew it.
It was clear that he was about to speak seriously.
After we finished our tea, we walked through the garden.
I turned my gaze to the side and looked at Payne.
Did he really invite me to go flower watching?
I was puzzled, but as I walked through the garden, the initial discomfort was quickly forgotten.
“You asked me before what my favorite flower is. Then, what kind of flower do you like the most?”
“I like pear blossoms the most.”
“Come to think of it, I thought there were many similar-looking trees, but are they all pear trees?”
I couldn’t hear an answer, so I turned around and saw Payne with a blank face.
Perhaps because of my puzzled expression, he gave me an awkward smile.
“You’re right. By the way… that bracelet and necklace are self-defense weapons. Did you get it from Elvin?”
I hesitated for a moment, then nodded.
“You two seem pretty close.”
“There have been a few occasions where I have been helped by him. I haven’t known him for a long time, but I think he’s a good person.”
A complex look flashed in Payne’s eyes.
But the next moment, he asked me again with a nonchalant face.
“It will soon be autumn. There will be a hunting festival, and I wonder what rare animals will be released this time.”
“I know, right.”
I mechanically nodded at Payne’s words.
Then he looked ahead again.
Having said that, I was curious again.
Come to think of it, where was Elvin now?
He said he was leaving, but he didn’t say where or when he was leaving.
I couldn’t ask because he didn’t seem to want me to know about it.
I should have asked. Now I regretted it.
I did not know if he had already left or if he was still in the capital.
But the thought of not seeing him for a while made me feel sad.
Somehow I missed his pretty eyes and playful voice.
Payne’s voice woke me from my thoughts.
As I turned to look at him, he was watching me with puzzlement.
“I’m sorry. What did you say?”
“It’s nothing. I just asked what kind of animals you like.”
I thought about it for a while, then answered anyway.
“I like foxes. Because it’s cute.”
After a few more casual conversations, Payne spoke.
“I saw the Duke enter the palace this morning.”
Today’s entry into the palace was not an audience, but a call from the emperor.
I had no way of knowing why the emperor had suddenly summoned the duke at this point.
However, when I remembered the dark expression on the servant’s face when he came to speak to the duke, I felt anxious.
‘Come to think of it…….’
I turned my gaze to the side.
A face as cold and clear as glass caught my eye.
Payne was the commander of the Imperial Knights, so if something really happened, he would know.
I thought for a moment and then asked.
“Do you know why His Majesty called my father?”
“Didn’t the Duke tell you?”
A look of concern flashed in Payne’s gaze.
“Perhaps His Majesty will issue an order to dispatch troops today.”
“Dispatch troops? Is he leaving again?”
The duke used to stay longer on the battlefield than in the capital.
So, I already knew that he would leave again one day.
However, it was strange that the emperor issued an order to dispatch troops not long after he returned.
Suddenly, I remembered what he said the last time I saw Elvin.
Something was going to happen?
“Are you sad to hear that your father is leaving again?”
“A little bit. But what’s really going on?”
Payne saw my dark expression and added.
“I was told to increase the number of guards and strengthen security, so it should be fine. It won’t be a big deal, so don’t worry too much. However…….”
Payne’s complexion darkened.
He removed the smile from his face and spoke seriously.
“There are suspicious people roaming around the capital these days, so be careful, princess.”
Elvin said the same thing to me. Now Payne…
It was already the second time I had heard this warning.
I tried to raise the corner of my lips, but my anxious mind did not calm down.
Payne pulled something out of his pocket and held it out.
When I looked at him with a puzzled face, he said with a shy face.
“It’s a self-defense weapon. But I didn’t expect the princess to have something of the same type.”
What Payne held out was a small, elongated, silver whistle.
A thin string of the same color was tied to the end.
“The most important thing is not to get into trouble. Take several escorts with you when you go out and don’t go to dangerous places.”
After thinking about it for a moment, I accepted.
We walked a little further and stopped at the entrance of the 2nd Prince’s Palace.
Payne called for a carriage, and I stood still and waited.
Within minutes the carriage arrived and he held out his hand to me.
Just as I was about to refuse, a courtier approached and whispered something into Payne’s ear.
Then his complexion deteriorated rapidly.
It seemed that something urgent had happened.
“I’m fine. So go ahead.”
“No. It’s not that urgent, so you don’t have to worry about it.”
At Payne’s words, the court lady’s eyes widened.
She seemed to want to refute something, but closed her mouth.
Then, a man dressed as a knight approached and said.
“Your Highness, I will escort the Princess, so don’t worry.”
Payne seemed to hesitate for a moment, then looked at me with a sad face and asked.
“Can you visit me again next time?”
I looked at him without saying anything at Payne’s embarrassed question.
However, seeing a slight impatience in his gaze at me, I reluctantly nodded my head.
“If the opportunity arises, I will.”
On the way back.
The attendant, who sat in the driver’s seat in charge of the guide, held the reins and continued to talk with excitement.
“It is the first time that the 2nd Prince has invited an outsider for a private meeting. The princess may not know it, but the inside of the garden where the tea table was prepared was a favorite place for the late Empress when she was alive. It’s a place where no one can enter without permission even though I’ve served him for years.”
Then, the complexion of the knight who was with him worsened.
“Don’t say nonsense.”
He sent a warning glance at the attendant.
Only then did the attendant shut his mouth.
Looking at his eyes, the knight seemed to disapprove of me.
After possessing Roxana’s body, I could recognize that kind of gaze right away because it was familiar.
However, I too was a little uncomfortable with the words the attendant had spoken.
Finally, the carriage arrived at the duke’s residence.
When I got out of the carriage, they greeted me politely and started the carriage again.
On the way from the imperial palace to here, there were more than ten escort knights assigned by Payne.
Including the duke’s knights I took with me to the imperial palace, there were twenty of them.
Even the crown prince didn’t have that many escorts around, so it could be said that I received a special treatment.
I felt uncomfortable with being treated excessively.
“If either the 2nd Prince or the Crown Prince’s are both lost in beauty…”
Ellen muttered with a disapproving expression.
At his words, the attendant pulling the carriage looked back at him with a puzzled face.
“Yes? What did you say?”
The attendant made an incomprehensible face.
For whatever reason, the 2nd Prince’s second in command seemed to have trouble with something, so it was best not to poke him.
The attendant looked straight ahead and did not speak again.
‘Princess Lillian came to visit and the two of them walked in the garden together.’
Ellen couldn’t hide his surprise at the servant’s words earlier.
Princess Lillian. Wasn’t she the Crown Prince’s fiancée?
From the standpoint of serving the second prince, Ellen could not understand.
What could be good about being close to a woman with a bad reputation?
Even though she had broken up with the Crown Prince…
Seeing it with his own eyes made him even more curious.
The second prince’s attitude towards the princess was gentle and considerate.
To others, he always seemed to draw the cold line, but when he was with the Princess, he seemed more carefree.
It was something Ellen had never seen before.
Somehow, he thought it was strange that the second Prince was interested in the Princess more than necessary from before!
If he was going to meet a woman, wouldn’t it be much better to go with the Marquis of Kylon’s daughter, who had a pretty face and a good reputation?
Ellen stared at the void with a displeased expression.
The distant scenery of the duke’s residence caught his eye.
He frowned once more, then looked ahead again and pulled the reins.
As I entered the foyer, Stephen greeted me.
“My lady. How are you?”
“His Excellency has not returned yet.”
Looking out the window, the sun was already setting.
He left early in the morning but still hasn’t returned. It seemed like there was a lot to talk about.
“His Excellency sent you a message earlier. It looks like he will be late, so I don’t think he’ll be able to keep the dinner promise today…”
“It’s okay. It can’t be helped if he’s busy with official business. I’m tired, so I’ll go up now.”
“Yes. Please rest well.”
I went up to my room and saw flowers hanging in the shade.
Because the windows were left open for ventilation, fresh air filled the room.
I changed my clothes and went down to the dining room to eat.
After the sun had set and I was ready to sleep, the Duke returned.
“Roxana, may I come in?”
Tien opened the door at the voice of the duke in front of the door.
The duke entered with a more tired face than usual.
“Are you ready for bed? It seems I interrupted you.”
“No. What did His Majesty say?”
“I heard that you visited the 2nd Prince today.”
The Duke smiled bitterly and went to sit on the sofa.
‘He changed the subject.’
Suspicion arose, but I did not show it and sat down across from him.
Annie then brought hot tea.
For a while the duke was silent.
It was the first time I had ever felt so awkward and uncomfortable with him since I knew his true feelings for his daughter.
“Did His Majesty order you to leave?”
“Where did you hear the news?”
The duke looked at me with a surprised expression as if I had hit the target.
He thought for a moment, then he smiled bitterly.
“Did His Highness the 2nd Prince tell you?”
When I nodded, the duke’s complexion darkened.
“When did you become so close with the 2nd Prince?”
“He’s not a close friend.”
“Then what about Young Master Croix?”
When I raised my head and looked at the duke with a puzzled face, he turned away with an apologetic expression.
The Duke’s reaction seemed a little strange today.
He looked at me and continued.
“The breakup will be finalized before dispatch. I want to stay longer by your side, but the situation is serious. I’m sorry.”
The duke looked at me with a face filled with apologetic expression, then lowered his head.
He hesitated for a while before speaking again.
“Today His Majesty asked about your hand in marriage with the 2nd Prince.”
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