Excerpt from Ch 40:
“Hearing 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.”
If he knew, he wouldn’t be able to make such a gentle expression.
He gazed at the glass of wine that I’d brought to my lips, moved his arm, and brought it to his mouth.
I followed his series of actions with my eyes. It felt like a delicate situation.
The way he looked down at me while sipping the wine on his lips was dizzying.
“It’s quite… sweet,” he remarked.
“Because I like sweet things.”
“Why? Does that not suit me?”
“Of course not. There’s nothing that doesn’t suit you, Saintess.”
His words held sincerity, without any deception in his eyes.
Even though I came to see Princess Ronella’s intentions, meeting Prince Alois had led me into this interesting situation. Just as I was starting to find this fun, an unexpected individual entered the hall.
The servant yelled at the top of their lungs. Their announcing voice was as loud as when I first entered the hall, seizing people’s attention. You could say the person who appeared was just that important.
“His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince has arrived!”
As expected, my prediction proved accurate.
I sighed heavily at the thought of encountering the number one person that I didn’t want to meet.
I felt Prince Alois staring at me from above.
I massaged my temples, acting like I was having a hard time, then I let him know that I was currently avoiding the crown prince.
“You look like you’re having fun.” I remarked.
“Of course not,” Alois replied.
He might say that, but this was probably good news for Prince Alois. Sure enough, his eyes were shining like a hyena stalking its prey.
“Your Imperial Highness!”
“Your Highness! What brings you here?!”
The crown prince entered alone, brushing off the greetings from people around him and scanned the area as if he was searching for someone.
It was obvious he had come alone without a partner, likely for Princess Ronella’s sake.
Meanwhile, Ronella was busy greeting other people, along with Reneben. Even though she knew of the Crown Prince’s arrival, she was busy talking as if she hadn’t heard.
“Haa…” I sighed audibly.
“If it’s difficult, shall we move over there?”
Prince Alois suggested, gently guiding my hand as if assuming control.
The direction he was pointing to was the terrace. It was a place designed for relaxation, so it was always open, yet when its doors were shut and the curtains drawn, it became a secluded haven.
Since I didn’t feel like greeting the Crown Prince in the first place, I followed Alois’s lead toward the terrace.
Or to be more precise, I was about to follow his lead.
I was glad for the chance to talk with Prince Alois ‘alone’ and know what he was thinking.
That is, if the Crown Prince hadn’t appeared before us.
He stared at us with an unwavering gaze.
Despite the intensity of his gaze, neither Prince Alois nor I were threatened.
“There you are.”
“What is the matter, Crown Prince?” I replied casually, offering no formal greeting.
However, I didn’t think it was necessary to greet the crown prince formally because I had lost all trust in him. In the first place, my position demanded that I receive such greetings without saying them first.
The crown prince flinched. His mouth opened and closed as if he was trying to say something. He seemed to realize how polite I had usually been.
“…I never thought it’d be this hard to get a glimpse of the Saintess’ face, on the Goddess Festival of all days.”
“I know, right? To think we meet like this on the last day.”
“I greet Your Imperial Highness.”
My response was slippery. And Prince Alois wisely took that chance to greet the Crown Prince.
Seeing this exchange made me feel strange, but when I thought about it, I realized why it felt odd to see it.
It didn’t suit Prince Alois to defer towards others, although I might be an exception. Even though we’d only met a few times, he didn’t seem like the kind of person to bow in front of others like this.
“Ha… you’re the prince from back then.”
The crown prince, who was facing me, turned his gaze to Alois. After seeing him, the crown prince alternated glances between us then he burst into laughter in mock disbelief.
“What an interesting combination…”
Judging by his sarcastic remarks, he obviously didn’t know of Prince Alois’ relation to Ronella.
I hummed to myself as I listened to the crown prince’s ridicule.
Comparing the crown prince, who was looking at the present, with Alois, who was thinking and acting for the distant future, the contrast couldn’t be more intriguing.
Just as I was thinking that, the crown prince turned to me with an annoyed look on his face.
“Speaking of which, I have something to say about Marquis Chevolhi.”
Everyone who knew was already in the know, and hearing the Crown Prince bring it up so casually, I almost wanted to laugh.
Those doing things that no human should do, like Marquis Chevolhi, likely had no idea how much the temple was filtering them out.
“At the time, I couldn’t add anything because Imperial father was there.”
“As an imperial person living in the empire, I have to ask how long you plan to keep this going.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I know that you do not look well upon nobles enjoying their given rights as aristocrats.”
“Your Highness. Your Highness, the Crown Prince, you do understand that I am not part of the empire, yes?”
I reflexively smiled and it was not a pleasant smile.
“I understand you are not, but as you have entrusted yourself to the empire and have decided to carry on the will of your predecessors, wouldn’t you say your nationality is the empire?”
The previous saints were imperial people by birth. But not me.
Just as I was about to respond, the crown prince made another statement that halted all my thoughts. The way his words struck at people’s hearts had to be a talent.
“It is not right to punish a noble for such a ‘little matter’. While he may have acted rude before you, I hope you will restore the Marquis’ title which is currently confiscated.”
I glanced up at Alois and found him smiling faintly. Right now, the crown prince…
He was ridiculing Alois.
For Alois, a member of a royal family, the incident with Marquis Chevolhi was a disgrace; a secret that had to be taken to the grave.
“…Haha.” a bitter laugh escaped my lips.
Knowing how the minds of aristocrats worked, I purposefully avoided mentioning Alois’ name when deciding Marquis Chevolhi’s punishment. Because I didn’t want his name to be dragged into their conversations.
The Marquis’ prior mistakes were more than enough to punish him.
There was no denying that the Crown Prince was a capable man to the nobles.
However, he was only the world’s most powerful man for the nobles.
He may be clever, but with that brain of his, he only knew how to take care of those who already have deep pockets; he only aimed for those with power and wealth.
“This is no fun…”
I mumbled once the crown prince finished speaking.
I withdrew my hand from Prince Alois’s grasp and ran a hand through my hair. I never thought he would be so boring.
“Ahh, Your Highness, did you come all this way just to tell me that?”
The crown prince paused, raising a brow at my rebuttal.
“Your Highness, if I say I’m considering leaving this empire…would you still say this then?”
I deliberately spoke loudly, allowing those eavesdropping on our conversation to hear. Those who had been straining their ears to pick out the words went wide-eyed at my remark.
Even Prince Alois turned to look at me.
I never thought Alois was big because of his slender frame but when he stood next to the well-trained crown prince, he didn’t seem smaller at all, making for a peculiar sight.
“…What do you mean by that?” The crown prince’s expression distorted.
As if I just said something unexpected.
From the moment he didn’t expect such a reaction from me, he was out.
He should have anticipated various possibilities when he brought up such a topic to me. For instance, consider a scenario where my emotions were charged because of the wine, leading to unintended consequences.
“What do you think, Your Highness?”
“Are you saying you plan on leaving the empire?” The crown prince spoke in a low tone, almost threateningly.
I stealthily positioned myself in front of Prince Alois to hide him.
“Is that something I can’t do?”
“You know very well that no such thing has happened in history.”
“Then I shall be the first. How wonderful.”
I didn’t have a particular reason for hiding Prince Alois behind me. He acted like he was trying to draw attention.
The crown prince’s gaze moved to Alois, who had suddenly shifted behind me.
“Is it you?”
“You’re the one that’s making the Saintess…”
“Your Highness. Please refrain from such remarks.”
I didn’t think the prince would respond like that but since I had intentionally allowed others to hear, I hoped to protect Alois, at least.
Because I was covering him, people would likely spread rumors like they were facts, but I didn’t think that was too bad.
“The temple is not bound to anywhere so don’t you think Your Highness is expecting too much in the first place?”
The temple was not a generous tree, and I was suddenly reminded of those nobles who summoned our priests at dawn for trivial matters.
These were the same people who disturbed my sleep because they wanted to treat a simple wound on their hand.
I smiled softly, brushing my hair from my face.
“Your Highness is…”
I was about to continue speaking because I sensed from the Crown Prince’s expression that I might not be able to say much more if I didn’t say it now.
If not for the bastards who appeared right at that moment, as if they were determined to interfere.
A shivering chill ran down my spine. Even without turning my head or hearing the screams around me, I had a rough idea of what was happening.
I turned away from the Crown Prince and Prince Alois.
Just like the Crown Prince used to do, I erased my sarcastic smile and went to find Reneben.
Alois sensed the Crown Prince following but didn’t go out of his way to stop him.
Not liking the sound of my shoes clicking, I naturally took them off and continued walking. In a corner, I found Reneben and Princess Ronella.
With a pale complexion, Reneben looked at me as if pleading for help.
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