I turned to Reneben, who had stopped eating because he wanted to follow and help me. The scent of wine continued to linger in the air.
“About Prince Alois’s proposal.”
“I’m going to accept it.”
Reneben fell silent, a reaction I anticipated, so I simply smiled.
“Why all of a sudden…”
If he wanted to simply impress me as an individual for political reasons, I might have hesitated a little more. But the idea of seducing me so that he could take everything from me just sounded exciting to me.
He was different from those who wanted both me and my influence as a Saintess yet only clung to me with trivial aspirations.
I guess you could say this knowledge brought me a little joy…So I decided to give in to Prince Alois’s arrogant pursuit to obtain me.
Reneben’s expression became heavy.
I knew it wasn’t because he thought I was leaving the empire but because he was thinking about Prince Alois.
His mind was likely consumed with thoughts about the prince.
Before excusing myself to change my clothes, I gave Reneben a gentle smile.
It wasn’t difficult to smile sincerely at Reneben, who never faked his concern and regarded me as myself, not merely as a Saintess.
“Don’t worry. Trust me, Reneben.”
“…If I can’t trust Lady Emilone, then no one can be trusted.”
At Reneben’s words, I shrugged my shoulders and walked inside to change my dress.
* * *
My newly adorned attire was entirely gold, the most-favored color among high-ranking nobility.
When Ronella saw me, she clapped happily, expressing her approval. “I haven’t even worn this dress yet! I’m glad it fits Lady Emilone so well.”
“I’m truly grateful for your willingness to lend it to me. I will make sure to repay this favor.”
It felt a little burdensome to see the gold sparkling with every movement I made but since I brought this on myself, I just accepted it and moved on.
The dress, with its divided hems, fluttered gracefully whenever I moved.
As he looked at me, Prince Alois’s cheeks grew flushed.
If someone saw him, they would think he was a gentle and pure-hearted individual that was rare to find within the aristocratic circles.
“You look stunning.”
To others, he probably seemed like a mild-mannered person. Since I’d decided to join this trickery and get on the same boat, it wasn’t hard to engage in this comedic charade.
“Your praise is too generous.”
“I disagree. You are truly befitting of such praise.”
As I titled my head, my lustrous pink hair was freed from its jewelry and cascaded down my back.
Reneben noticed this and removed the ornament from my hair—a butterfly-shaped pin.
When I saw it in the mirror earlier, it seemed fitting, so I left it in place. As I was contemplating whether to return to the party, Prince Alois said something interesting.
“May I please have the honor of escorting you today, Saintess?”
Reneben, who was originally planned to be my escort, was choked by those words. His emotions started to surge, then he remembered who the other party was, and just bit his lips in annoyance.
I quickly pondered whether this situation would be beneficial for me.
Sensing an opportunity, Princess Ronella suddenly intervened, addressing Reneben.
“Then, Lord Reneben, would you care to dance with me?”
When a noble lady invites a man to a dance, it was an implicit invitation to be her partner for the day.
An inexplicable trace of anger flashed across Reneben’s face, but it soon turned into a troubled expression.
As a High Priest, Reneben dealt with many nobles so the look on his face might not be obvious to others, but he couldn’t fool my observant eyes.
However, I wasn’t the only one who noticed. The other two, who were just as perceptive as me, had surely noticed too.
Once she saw Reneben’s reaction, Princess Ronella earnestly began to speak. Her words poured out without hesitation as if she had already crafted a narrative beforehand.
“I’m not sure if you remember but… do you recall when you asked me to be my escort before?”
A long time ago, around the time that I became the Saintess, Reneben once said something that sounded like a line from a second male lead, ‘I’m happy if you’re happy’, in the temple’s back garden.
I covered my mouth with the fan I’d received during the dress change, pondering when was the last time Reneben had been this enthusiastic.
“At the time, I had a prior engagement with His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, so I had no choice but to decline. Today, I want to express my regret for that matter.”
The term ‘regret’ felt slightly misplaced, but she clearly meant to drive the nail into the coffin with that.
However, the changed Reneben politely took a step back and lowered his head.
“I…am sorry. I’m afraid I cannot oblige this time.”
There was no hint of personal emotions in his demeanor.
‘…Ronella even asked personally but he declined.’
It seems Reneben’s unrequited love was truly over. Well, it’s not strange for precarious feelings to suddenly cool down without any warning.
“Lord High Priest, I’m not sure how you’ll take my request, but I would be grateful if you could accompany Ronella.”
Just as the conflict neared a resolution, Prince Alois intervened. And just like before, Princess Ronella passionately continued her plea.
“Lord Reneben! If there’s a reason you can’t do it…please…tell me.”
Her voice trembled yet it was also pitiful.
I glanced at Reneben and seeing him looking anxious, I felt like I needed to help, so I looked at him and nodded.
While spending the day’s festivities with Prince Alois didn’t seem like a bad idea, I wasn’t heartless enough to ignore Reneben’s difficulty when he was like family to me.
However, Reneben seemed to interpret my signal that I would help differently because his eyes shook, then he lowered his head slightly and accepted the princess’s request.
“If you wish to dance with me, Princess Nestro, there is no greater honor.”
Ahh…my Reneben rescue mission failed.
For a moment, I wondered why he hated her so much when he really liked her at one time, then I realized he couldn’t help but hate her because she used to be someone he loved.
Ronella’s face brightened, she quickly closed the gap between her and Reneben.
In that case, the only thing left was…
“Your Holiness, will you grant me the honor of accompanying you?”
It turned out to be a decent choice.
“Announcing the arrival of Her Holiness, Saint Emilone, and His Highness, Prince Alois Eseah!!”
As soon as I entered the hall, the once bustling room fell into a sudden hush.
I was greeted by the same silence that occurred whenever the emperor arrived. I briefly pondered what to do, then I held the door that was just opened and smiled.
With a loud yet elegant voice, I sparked laughter from the previously quiet crowd. Most wouldn’t manage this feat, but because I was the Saintess, I did my best to speak like a fish in water.
“I am very pleased to see you all here. I hope you enjoy yourselves.”
Prince Alois, who was standing next to me, glanced down and extended his hand.
Unlike Reneben who had been holding Princess Ronella’s hand since we were outside, he arrogantly asked for my hand in front of so many eyes, yet I obediently offered my hand.
“Please take care of me.”
Then his lips, strikingly red and captivating, gently brushed against the back of my hand.
I carefully pondered why he was drawing this much attention in front of so many onlookers.
Since he was technically an ‘ally’, maybe he was helping me.
When the prince kissed my hand, the party hall suddenly exploded with noise. Nobody moved but everyone began exchanging whispers through their fans.
Seeing this, I had to reconsider my initial thinking.
He was probably aiming for this.
Everyone knew how swiftly rumors spread in the aristocratic circles.
Even if you ignore the kiss on the back of my hand, it seems the problem began when Prince Alois’ beautiful face stared down at me, and his eyelashes fluttered as I gazed into his eyes.
I could completely predict how this rumor would spread and there was no way that Prince Alois, who has been in aristocratic society longer than I, wouldn’t know this as well.
As Prince Alois lifted his lips from my hand, his smile dispelled the strange atmosphere that arose.
…The frozen atmosphere was erased so easily with his actions that I almost burst into laughter at the absurdity. Of course, I wasn’t foolish enough to actually laugh out loud.
“I never thought I would find myself in hands with Lady Emilone at a party.”
I sent him a glance, asking why.
He gently tightened his grip on my hand and led me to the wine display.
After picking out a red wine, he twirled his wrists a few times, mimicking my actions earlier.
“After helping me back then…”
Alois’s expression deepened. It was profound and mellow, with a hint of depravity.
He slowly sipped the wine, and his gaze was fixed on me. He held the wine glass dangerously, and it felt like it was going to spill on him at any second.
His gaze, barely containing the liquid, seemed poised to spill over, transforming the gentle young deer into a wild creature wherever he went.
“I thought you wouldn’t frequent these gatherings anymore.”
The wine was about to overflow from his glass. Watching this perilous scene, a thought entered my mind.
“The loud music, forced smiles, unpleasant conversations. Even now, I am regretting coming here.”
With my free hand, I grabbed Prince Alois’ wrist.
I brought the wine glass in his hand to my lips and tilted it, allowing me to capture the astonishment on his face.
Only after I drained half the wine in the glass did I let go of his wrist.
I slowly licked off that wine collected around my mouth. If someone was trying to seduce me…
“But after meeting Your Highness the Prince, I don’t think it’s too bad.”
…then there’s no reason to hold myself back.
His eyes widened like he was surprised.
His crimson eyes, possibly daunting to others, began to grow hot, “Hearing that from you…”
When he tilted the wine glass as if he wanted to be seen, I wondered if he had noticed my act, just as I had noticed his performance, yet it seemed that was not the case.
“…makes me happy.”