“Why do you look like a dead chicken?”
When she returned to her palace, the one who welcomed her while laying gracefully on the sofa was her older brother.
She looked over to her brother who was once again dressed in a clean and tidy attire, as if he had been obsessed with looking kempt, with his legs crossed.
‘Does he not have work to do…?’
Ashley stared at her 6th brother before shaking her head. There was no point in saying anything to him.
“I heard that he was going to stop by later.”
Fleon spat out nonchalantly.
For some reason, when she heard that Dane, who had recently been so busy she had barely seen his face, was coming, her gloomy expression seemed to brighten a little.
Fleon pretended not to have been observing his younger sister’s reaction.
“Did His Highness, the Crown Prince, say something?”
For a moment, the girl looked surprised. Bewildered, she fixed her expression. She was relieved he could only see her back now.
“Or did you fight with the 4th Prince?”
“Uhm, it’s nothing like that.”
“Then what? For a while you’ve been smiling so widely like a fool as if you’ve found something you enjoyed but now your expression’s like a dead beetle. How can I not care?”
“… Brother, you could be more loved if only you changed the way you talked.”
She was sure that he was being concerned but his harsh words made it hard for her to sympathise.
She thought he would be able to fix the way he spoke when he got older but that didn’t seem to be happening.
She wondered how he could be so different from her other brother, Dane.
Wondering if he had a half day today, she worried if someone was going to come and take him away to work.
Fleon, who had been grumbling to himself for a while, fixed his posture and scratched his head.
“You know, the desert delegation.”
“They said that they would be arriving in the Empire two days before the Founding Festival. It looks like we’ll have to greet them at the banquet on the first day.”
“What do you mean by ‘I see’.”
Fleon flared up.
“Is this the time for you to smile without a care? The desert princess or whoever she is had asked you to help her find her attendants. I mean, it should be enough that you saved her life. Does she have no shame? That arrogant little…”
When he said that, Fleon looked at Ashley in surprise. Soon, with a bitter smile on her face, she could finally completely understand Ahasia’s feelings.
“She must have been very desperate. Have you met her in person, brother?”
“No but that guy, Dane, has.”
“… Why would Dane meet the princess?”
“The princess is staying at Dane’s private mansion now.’
Ashley widened her eyes.
What kind of situation was this? She knew that Dane had a private residence in the capital but she didn’t know that the desert princess was currently staying there.
Fleon then explained what had happened.
“You’re telling me that Granius had officially transferred the duty of protecting the desert princess to Dane so that he could publicise her existence?”
“That’s right. Since the 7th Prince remained neutral and hadn’t declared support for anyone.”
It was not that he was remaining neutral but rather no side was willing to take him in because he didn’t have any power. The position Dane was in was useful.
“That’s what I heard.”
First of all, his maternal family, ‘The Wheel of Rome’, was once a tribe of nomads whose roots could be traced back to an era before the Empire had existed and to a place even further than the desert so everyone accepted his legitimacy without any difficulty.
“Anyway, you, take care of your body. There’s not much time left. That… As I was saying.”
He shook his head which had been tilted. His expression had contorted. Even after such a long time had passed, Fleon was still struggling to accept the deaths his younger sister had almost experienced.
‘She could just talk about it. It’s fine.’
Her spirit which had already gotten used to avoiding her countless deaths was not fine, but it was time for her to adapt. Maybe it was because she had never died before.
What would happen if she died?
Would she be able to open her eyes again like the day she drank poison in Amor’s place?
She couldn’t say that she had never thought of experimenting. But… would she still be able to remain herself?
She was afraid.
Shaking her head, she clasped her hands that were trembling and twitching. She would never, ever, become the kind of trash that played with lives.
‘Has Rusbella entered the Empire?’
Around this time, Rusbella should be at an academy outside the Empire. Rubella had accidentally overheard rumours about the Empire and had decided to sneak out to come here during her break. That was when she met the sub-male lead, Castor, on the most spectacular night the Founding Festival had to offer. The first scene both of them were in together was often talked about.
She had already checked out the secret spot at the place they were supposed to meet. There was no way that Castor and Rusbella would not meet there.
That place. Both of them had a reason to be at that clock tower.
It was strange.
She should be welcoming the fact that the plot was progressing as per usual but why was her heart pounding? Ashley grabbed her chest. Cold sweat dripped down her skin.
But more importantly, it was clear that she needed to find out Rusbella’s whereabouts.
A few days later.
It was already late into the afternoon when she was finally going to try on her completed stage attire.
However, Rebecca hadn’t returned even while she and Fleon were having a late lunch.
“I’ll wait with you until your lady-in-waiting arrives.”
Rebecca’s absence made her feel empty, especially since these days, Rebecca had been even busier than her.
The girl murmured to herself softly as she stared at the empty gaps between the murals on the ceiling.
Fleon, Dane, Rebecca and everyone else she knew would be the ones to fill the empty spaces in the original novel, not the main characters.
She might be in the world of a novel, the main characters she was familiar with might be appearing before her, all the men she knew were going to fall in love with the female lead and war might break out one day but that wasn’t everything.
One must have gone through enough trials and tribulations to be able to say ‘I’m finally happy’. Just like how there were countless people working hard for the stage for the Founding Festival. Those working behind the stage had their own stories to tell as well. Suddenly, everything felt so distant.
Just then, there was an urgent knock on the door that sounded neither too loud nor too soft.
“A letter has arrived from the Central Palace! They’re urgently requesting for the princess’ presence.”
The 4th Administrative Office was calling for her.
The girl looked through the letter to confirm if the sender was Granius but the letter was indeed sent from the Central Palace.
“What are you doing just standing there?”
Anyway, she could not ignore a call for the princess. She left her palace with Fleon.
It was when they had to part at a crossroad. Out of the blue, the girl held Fleon’s hand. Then, with a calm and collected expression, she asked him.
“Brother, do you think that it was a good thing that I ended up dancing with our brother, the Crown Prince?”
His raised eyes looked fierce yet nevertheless, his handsome face, which was as elegant as an orchid, was grimacing. Soon after, he spat out his thoughts.
“Honestly, my desire to curse at everything is still bubbling like the crater of Mount Vulcanus. I’m sure that guy, Dane, feels the same way.”
“It was your choice. So, we had to support it, you brat.”
He was prickly and acted like someone who didn’t want to admit it.
“If I don’t believe in you, then who would?”
Dane and Fleon were both aware of the rumours that were circulating outside their palaces. And for her sake, they put up with it. She was grateful for their consideration. And this was considering Fleon who had no patience. Between the strands of hair that he parted as he swept his hair up, she spotted a crooked smile.
She had no trouble getting to the Central Palace. She could see the emperor’s and the empress’ palaces respectively nearby. According to tradition, Imperial women could not enter the Central Palace until they reached adulthood so the ginormous palace she first saw when she entered looked amazing.
If the Crown Prince’s Palace was eye-catching, then the emperor’s palace was majestic.
‘It’s like comparing a lullaby to a symphony.’
The roof was golden. And that colour symbolised how it would always be day in the Empire. Because in this nation, the sun would never set.
However, according to the original novel, it was a nation that could not avoid its destruction.
As she followed the junior official who had been waiting for her, she was eventually led to a huge hall.
In the space she was told to wait in, there Dane was, looking surprised.
“What are you doing here?”
“I received a letter from the Central Palace. I heard that the first delegation had arrived. Seeing that you’re here too, Ashley, it seems like they only called for Imperial members who are publicly known.
The face which she had not seen for a long time looked thin. Perhaps it was because he had worked the entire night before.
‘Who do his evil supervisors think they are to give such a painstaking job to a man with a face that could be considered the Empire’s treasure?’
She was curious about his top brass. While Ashley crumpled her face, he held his hand out to her.
“I think I was called here because I’ll be the one in charge of the stage.”
The [Primo Salvatio] that could only be seen in the Founding Festival was an event that even envoys from other nations showed great interest in. That was probably why they requested her audience as well.
It was her first time meeting Dane in a while but they didn’t have much time to talk.
Ashley followed the junior official to her seat before scanning her surroundings at one go. Though it wasn’t as big as a World Cup Stadium, the space was big enough to be considered an indoor stadium. As if she was viewing a magnificent temple through a movie screen, she noticed the Lord of the Gods and their symbolic animal engraved in black lines on the dozens of stairs.
When she looked up, the emperor’s throne, which was pure gold to symbolise the sun, stood out to her first. And the seats in gold embedded with jewels on both sides belonged to the rest of the Imperial Family. Upon a closer look, she could see that the patterns engraved on every chair and the colour of the gems were different.
The seat where she was led to was the furthest from the throne. And the purple gems that were embedded on her handles caught her eye though she was not sure if they were amethyst or jade.
‘The purple colour and is this some flower? And is this a goblet?’
There were white flowers and goblets engraved onto her seat. Perhaps it was because they made it in a hurry but the pattern was a little asymmetrical and her seat felt shabbier compared to the other chairs.
She could spot Dane’s seat not too far away. His seat had emeralds in dangling tassels and the bottom of his seat was shaped like a wheel.
‘Are they all symbols of our maternal family?’
Ashley did not know much about her maternal family. So, she felt more comfortable sitting at a distance.
The 2nd and 3rd Prince’s seats flanking the Emperor’s throne in the center and the 4th Prince’s… one after another, all she saw were empty seats.
‘Was the emperor and the 2nd Prince also not coming?’
She had greeted Fleon, who she had just parted from, with her gaze before shifting her eyes to stare at the highest occupied seat.
She stared at Castor who was smirking as he sat listlessly on the highest seat following the emperor’s.
‘The duke is here too.’
The duke with the blindingly white hair who was now firmly standing next to him had arrived together with Castor. Soon, a footman ran in to notify Castor.
“The envoys are ready, Your Highness.”
“Let them in.”
The doors swung open. About 30 people flocked into the space and Ashley stared at the man who looked to be their leader.
“The Empire’s eternal ally, bound by the land and the sea.”
He looked to be of her age with silver hair groomed neatly and a small stature.
“The 2nd Prince of the Kingdom of Walter, Cjezarnian Owen Walter, greets you all.” (1)
At his resonating voice, the girl’s eyes widened in surprise till the point she couldn’t bring herself to blink for a while.
‘The supporting character in the original novel.’
It felt as if an invisible bookshelf was toppling over her.
Her surprise was short-lived but there was now a glint in the eyes of the girl who thought death was still far from her. She didn’t know whether to cry or to smile. How could that man appear before her at this timing like some dream? For whatever reason, a hidden card she should not miss her chance to grab had emerged.
The man who loved his brother’s woman and played an outstanding role in the war as a competent knight, the silver knight.
The male lead’s younger brother.
And, quite possibly, the man who could tell her Rusbella’s whereabouts.
(1): i don’t remember what I last Tled his name to be (or have I ever tled his name before?) but this is the standard from now on!!