I found myself summoned to the Emperor’s audience chamber, the reason painfully clear: I had nearly made an enemy out of the Empire’s Crown Prince right before the Emperor’s eyes.
‘Julius, that troublesome brat. What has he done to deserve such attention?’ I thought bitterly, convinced that he should have shared my fate.
As I settled onto a plush couch, muttering my discontent, a warm cup of tea was placed before me. Perhaps it was the melancholy of the moment, but suddenly, a grim reality dawned on me.
‘Is this to be my final meal…?’
I decided to savor this last supper to the fullest.
While nursing these thoughts, I couldn’t bring myself to touch the tea and found my gaze fixed on the floor.
It was at this moment that the Emperor issued an order.
“Lady, cease your sulking.”
I remained silent.
“Come now, everything will be fine.”
Did this mean, ‘Do you acknowledge your wrongdoing?’
With my legs feeling numb, I offered a deep bow and replied, “I have committed a grave offense.”
To be truthful, I did not consider it a grave offense at all. That rascal had initiated the violence first. However, he happened to be the Empire’s sole Crown Prince.
I was bracing myself for an imminent death sentence, but to my astonishment, the Emperor spoke in a somewhat apologetic tone.
“Julius can be quite difficult. He’s my son, but he has his flaws.”
I blinked in confusion. Was the Emperor always like this?
The Emperor I had known from the original story was a stern figure, especially when it came to the Crown Prince. Julius had suffered from maternal neglect since childhood, which explained his infatuation with Dahlia, who possessed boundless motherly affection.
“Your wrist must be in considerable pain; I will summon a healer immediately.”
The Emperor’s expression seemed genuinely concerned as he spoke.
Could it be that the Emperor had also experienced a transmigration like me? Although I couldn’t fathom such an occurrence happening to anyone else but me, it was the only explanation for the Emperor’s strange behavior.
With suspicions lingering, I lowered my head.
“No, Your Majesty. Your concern alone is an honor.”
“Lady Praviche will undoubtedly be concerned.”
Ah, now it made sense.
My doubts dissipated instantly. The Praviche family held considerable power and influence within the Imperial court.
I raised the corner of my mouth and nodded.
“It’s alright. Instead, may I humbly request that His Highness the Crown Prince refrain from any further unwarranted actions?”
“Indeed. I apologize for today.”
“Your Majesty, there is no need for you to apologize. Let us put this incident behind us.”
In response to my words, the Emperor nodded approvingly, settled back into his seat, and changed the topic.
“By the way, I heard that Young Lady Hebe cried upon hearing about our conversation. She even ruined the hat she had bought for me.”
I had ruined the hat I purchased for the Emperor? Just as I was about to protest the unfair accusation…
“Why should there be so much gratitude? I didn’t like the hat Young Lady Hebe purchased, anyway.”
“Is that so?”
“Childish, with all those flowers and ribbons. And in yellow, no less? My tastes are more refined. Young Lady Hebe nearly insulted me.”
I was utterly bewildered.
What on earth was this conversation about?
Evelyn’s life was reduced to naught, except for her wealth and family blessings.
“For now, Young Lady Hebe is simply vexing me. Time will heal all wounds. If necessary, I’ll move forward with the engagement…”
“Oh no, that won’t be necessary!”
I hastily waved my hand, almost blurting out something insane.
Engaged to the Crown Prince? What a dreadful idea.
“I plan to live with my parents forever without marrying!”
Since when had I made such a decision? Since just yesterday when I was shopping with Henry.
The Emperor looked disappointed.
“Why? You used to adore Julius.”
That was true. At least, Evelyn did.
I shook my head.
Who was this Emperor now? The ultimate mediator with the highest power. The person now determined to marry me off to his son for emotional stability and behavioral correction.
And he wouldn’t be swayed by a change of heart with just a single word.
“In fact, Your Highness, I have received a proposal from someone on the same day you refused.”
The Emperor was taken aback, leaning forward on the sofa. His shocked reaction made it easier for me to play my part.
“He presented me with a beautiful bouquet of roses and a ring. I was deeply moved, especially since these were things Your Highness had never given me before. I felt truly cherished.”
With a wistful gaze, I looked out the window and smiled at the Emperor.
“So, we’ve decided to become engaged.”
The Emperor’s face held a mixture of shock and disbelief, and I thought to myself:
I’ll be successful even as a con artist.
‘And then we’ll go home and introduce my fake fiancé…’
‘Oh, no. That won’t be necessary!’
I quickly gestured to prevent myself from making an absurd statement.
The Emperor’s daughter-in-law? What an awful idea.
* * *
In the palace, Dahlia nervously bit her nails, wondering, “Why is there no news?”
After encountering Lady Evelyn at the boutique, Dahlia approached Julius with her damaged hat, tears streaming down her cheeks. Without any hesitation, she blurted out, “The gift I intended for the Emperor is now unusable.”
Simple Julius quickly understood that Evelyn had ruined the hat, and he couldn’t conceal his anger. He instructed her to wait and hastily left the scene. However, a whole day passed with no updates.
Just as Dahlia’s ragged thumbnail began to bother her, Julius knocked on the door of her room, and she was finally relieved to hear his voice. “Dahlia.”
With an excited heart, Dahlia opened the door, addressing him with a respectful “Your Highness.” But Julius’ expression was far from what she had expected; it was a nuanced mix of emotions, not clearly happy or angry.
“Why?” Dahlia wondered aloud.
The answer should have been apparent. Even if Evelyn had been absent for a few days, Julius couldn’t assume she’d give up on him.
He should have returned in a frenzy, thinking she’d accept his invitation, and he ought to have been more than wary of Evelyn. But Julius’ next words were nothing like Dahlia had imagined.
“Lady Praviche no longer loves me.”
“…What?” Dahlia was floored.
“She protested about the hat, but, in any case, she won’t trouble you anymore. She told me she doesn’t love me and has lost interest in you as well.”
“Is that…” Dahlia began but didn’t finish her sentence.
“So, you can relax now.”
Julius embraced Dahlia. She was bewildered by his unexpected action. “Lady Evelyn no longer loves you?”
It couldn’t be true. The only thing Lady Evelyn lacked was Julius. Dahlia’s eyes revealed her changing emotions as she quickly understood the situation.
‘Ah, that’s what it is.’
Evelyn was so transparent. Even while pretending to be someone else’s lover, if Evelyn saw the person she genuinely loved with Dahlia, her jealousy would be uncontainable. Dahlia inwardly chuckled at how easily she could manipulate the situation.
However, when Julius spoke, his confusion silenced Dahlia’s laughter. “But Lady Praviche mentioned that she’s engaged.”
“A fiancé? What’s that about?”
Dahlia was briefly surprised but soon grasped the situation.
‘Ah, I see.’
This was Evelyn’s jealousy in action. The more Evelyn played these games, the better it was for Dahlia, as she was becoming increasingly entwined with Julius.
“If it’s Lady Evelyn, she can easily break off the engagement. I’m sure the engagement story is a lie.”
“So are you suggesting that she lied to me and Father about it?”
Julius’s ears perked up, and Dahlia seized the opportunity to whisper into his ear.
“If His Majesty finds out, he’ll be furious. You should verify it from our end.”
“Send an invitation. Invite her fiancé to come.”
Evelyn couldn’t control her emotions. Even if she was pretending to have a fake lover, she wouldn’t be able to hide her anger when she saw that the person she truly loved was next to Dahlia.
Dahlia flashed a bright smile.