‘Ah… she wasn’t angry with me after all.’
Camilla was known for her cold and critical evaluations of everything, but she never stooped to insult people’s appearance. Irovel felt a bit embarrassed about thinking that Camilla didn’t like her appearance.
“If it’s not enough, tell them to make more. Eat to your heart’s content. Otherwise, I’ll roast you until your fat sizzles.”
Reinhardt said with a stern expression.
Still, weren’t the first and second parts of his statement essentially saying the same thing?
Pondering this, Irovel took a bite of the perfectly cooked steak. From that point on, she focused on eating with the zeal of a mukbang streamer as Camilla and Reinhardt watched her with proud expressions.
* * *
A few days later.
It was Ella Candia’s birthday, and as the Grand Duchess of Erestein, it marked my first official event to attend. The servants woke up at the crack of dawn to prepare me with makeup tools and a carriage.
“Hurry up! We’ll be late!”
“Just one more thing!”
“You said that just a moment ago!”
“But look! The Madam become so beautiful with even just one more thing on her face!”
“Well, that’s true.”
Thanks to the servants’ hard work, the makeup turned out splendidly. The dress that Camilla had personally tailored for me fit like a glove.
Not only that, but under her guidance, my once dry hair now had a glossy sheen, and I wore crystal shoes that she had graciously given me. In addition, the necklace and earrings perfectly complemented the ensemble.
Naturally, I hadn’t purchased these items myself.
“If you don’t wear this necklace, I’ll roast you until your fat sizzles! I’ll roast the three folds of your belly when you sit!”
“If you don’t wear these earrings, I’ll roast you until your fat sizzles! I’ll roast your stomach before your thighs when you spill food!”
…For some reason, those were the threats Reinhardt had unleashed in a fit of anger.
‘It seems like he wants to give me a present, so why doesn’t he just say it honestly?’
Despite the fact that curiosity tugged at me, the mere thought of facing an angry Reinhardt for even a second longer threatened to give me a heart attack, so I reluctantly abandoned the idea.
“It’s all right.”
Camilla’s face lit up with satisfaction as she admired the custom-made dress and crystal shoes she had given me.
“How about it? Doesn’t she look like a sparkling treasure now?”
She asked, beaming.
Reinhardt’s response seemed slightly dissatisfied, though I couldn’t fathom why when she posed the question.
A sparkling treasure? Why the sudden comparison?
“We’re running late! Get on the carriage quickly!”
Jade’s urgency interrupted any further questioning, prompting me to hastily board the carriage.
When Reinhardt’s eyes fixated on the envelope of important documents clutched close to my chest, I smiled and replied.
“I want to give it to someone as a present.”
“You want to give it to someone? Who?”
“I don’t really want to say it yet.”
In response to his question, I weakly smiled and answered. Then, with a creak, the carriage set in motion. Reinhardt didn’t press further about the envelope.
Instead, it was me who questioned him first.
“Reinhardt, why did you have such an unpleasant expression earlier?”
His countenance turned grim and serious as he spoke.
“Irovel, frivolity is not allowed.”
“Do not let your heart race or your face flush at the flattery of other men claiming you are beautiful. Do you understand? Maintain a resolute heart.”
What nonsense was he spouting? Why did he wear that displeased expression earlier? What was he even talking about?
I glanced at Camilla, hoping she might provide some clarity, though she simply raised the corners of her crimson lips and nodded knowingly.
‘…Am I the only one who doesn’t understand?’
After a while, the carriage came to a halt. As the attendants checked our appearances one last time, we proceeded into the grand hall of the palace.
“Grand Duke Reinhardt Erestein, Grand Duchess Irovel Erestein, and Countess Camilla Vrellod have arrived!”
The announcement marked our entrance, and in an instant, countless eyes fixated upon the three of us.
“So, it’s true that she married Grand Duke Erestein.”
“They made such an announcement without even having a wedding ceremony… I thought it was a joke…”
“By the way, she has really changed. She used to wander around like a maid.”
“I heard Consort Camilla played a part in this change.”
“Wife, she’s no longer ‘Consort Camilla,’ she’s ‘Countess Vrellod’ now.”
“Oh, right. I need to get my mind straight.”
Though the hushed voices of the ladies whispered discreetly, their words were carried to my ears. I stole a glance at Camilla, and her expression betrayed her displeasure.
“Are you all right?”
This grand affair surely made her more uncomfortable than myself. She didn’t have to attend, yet she insisted on accompanying us.
When I asked her why before we departed, this was her response.
“I wanted to repay my debt.”
It appeared that Camilla was referring to the promise she made before when we shared our weaknesses. However, given that we were in the confines of the ‘palace,’ there would likely be more instances where she would find herself in a weaker position than me.
Camilla dismissed my concern, brushing it aside.
“Instead of worrying about others, you should focus on yourself. This is a high society. If you let your guard down for even a moment, you’ll be pounced upon by a pack of cunning tigers, waiting for the perfect opportunity to tear you apart.”
“Are you referring to those people as a pack of cunning tigers?”
Reinhardt lifted his chin towards Ella Candia and the Emperor, who were approaching us.
“…I wasn’t talking about them, but you certainly shouldn’t let your guard down around them.”
Camilla reacted tensely.
“Irovel! You’re here!”
In the meanwhile, the Emperor and Ella, the hostess of the evening’s gathering, approached us. Ella, seemingly having shed her previous caution, wore a brighter expression now.
“I greet the Emperor, who carries the future of the Empire like a golden sun. And Madam Ella, I extend my warmest wishes on your birthday.”
As I offered a perfunctory greeting accompanied by a disingenuous smile, Ella responded with a casual smile of her own.
‘…She seems different. Or perhaps she’s simply pretending.’
“I apologize for extending an invitation to the Duchy of Hoover without realizing that you had become the Grand Duchess of Erestein.”
She undoubtedly knew. Nevertheless, I responded with a sweet smile and spoke.
“Oh, it’s quite all right. You couldn’t have known.”
If I were to reveal my true feelings in a setting teeming with people, I would undoubtedly be met with reactions such as, ‘Are you mocking me? Are you attempting to humiliate me?’ It was more convenient to remain silent, as I lacked concrete evidence. Engaging in debates about right and wrong within high society wasn’t something I desired.
“You weren’t aware? Ella, you mentioned it to me on my birthday.”
However, at that very moment…
“Are you suggesting that you were unaware of Irovel’s marriage to the Grand Duke Erestein despite having mentioned it yourself?”
The one presenting this ‘concrete evidence’ was none other than the Emperor.
Caught off guard, Ella began to stammer in defense.
“Yes? Your Majesty! No! I’ve never uttered such words in your presence!”
“Ella, are you trying to portray me, the Emperor and your husband, as a liar? Are you prepared to take responsibility for those words?”
As he uttered those words, the Emperor’s expression grew stern, and though Ella appeared bewildered, she dutifully lowered her head.
“…No. Your Majesty’s words are true.”
“Why did you extend an invitation to the Duchy of Hoover if you were aware that Irovel was going to marry my brother?”
“Don’t ignore the Emperor’s question, Ella. Answer quickly.”
‘You sent it to mock her.’
The Emperor seemed resolute in extracting that answer from her lips. Many in attendance had already picked up on the intriguing incident unfolding amidst this monotonous banquet, and they began to whisper amongst themselves.
“Oh my, His Majesty is being rather harsh. To interrogate the Madam in front of so many people…”
“And on her birthday, no less. How unfortunate for her.”
Despite the words spoken, the upward curl of their lips revealed no sympathy for her. Instead, it seemed that they found the humiliation of Ella, who had always maintained an air of propriety as the Emperor’s primary consort, to be utterly fascinating.
“Your Highness, you’re completely infatuated with Grand Duchess Erestein, aren’t you?”
“Grand Duchess Erestein is the person who told you, Ella, who had been insulting her by calling her an illegitimate child, ‘How can you say such a thing to me, who was born into the world this way, as an adulterous mistress who took away someone else’s husband?’ It’s you who’s vile.”
“Oh my—it seems that the Madam didn’t know Grand Duchess Erestein would marry someone else.”
Laughter erupted among some individuals, accompanied by the words, “Oh my, what is she saying?” The sound was not entirely hushed, yet no one made an effort to silence it.
It was evident that Ella’s once formidable authority had plummeted to the ground.