According to the prophetic writings, she was going to be killed on the day they held their engagement ceremony.
It was strange. That meant that there was going to be an engagement ceremony. But there was a huge difference in power between the desert kingdom and the Empire.
Still, she had already asked Penne to explain the gist of the current situation in the desert. She heard that their monarchy was on the brink of collapse and that a rebellion might occur soon.
She didn’t usually pity people. Her own Empire was on the verge of collapse as well. Just like how the Empire was soon going to have a tyrant, around this time, the desert kingdom too had their own tyrant who sparked a great war that eventually devoured their entire nation. The king who would be going through that adversity in the future was Ahasia’s father.
‘She’s planning on a political marriage.’
The reason why she had escaped so desperately to the Empire to meet the Crown Prince she had only seen once when she was a child. There had been talks about their possible engagement a long time ago. For some reason, the emperor began one-sidedly neglecting their engagement a few years later and talks about their engagement eventually fizzled out.
What had changed was that the desert kingdom was currently in a much bigger mess than it was before. There was no reason for the Crown Prince of such a powerful Empire to get engaged with the princess of a country that would soon be destroyed. Would it be possible to reclaim an engagement that had fizzled out? Ashley wasn’t very sure but Ahasia seemed to have a secret weapon.
She didn’t know what Ahasia’s necklace symbolised but if it could make the impossible possible…
Ashley had once heard of the desert kingdom’s situation from Granius who had once been the Crown Prince’s tutor. According to him, it seemed as if the Crown Prince had once visited the desert kingdom himself as a child. Did they manage to establish a personal connection through the necklace?
She had to stop this engagement.
“Of course I’ll be on your side. I hope that you can be on my side too, Ahasia.”
So, if that necklace is gone, the power of her words weaken.
The desert delegation arrived the next day. And so did the morning of the first day of the Founding Festival.
When the morning sky reached halfway through its climb up the sky, Ashley was just about to have breakfast.
The bright weather welcomed the first day of the Founding Festival.
A bearded middle-aged official knelt before her politely. The senior official handed her a scroll embellished with a golden snake and laurel leaves before saying.
“His Highness, the Crown Prince, will be meeting you later this afternoon.”
It was customary for the princess’ patronus to pick her up. However, that was only possible if the status of the patronus was lower than that of the princess, which was why the tyrant ignored traditions and had ordered her to come to him instead.
There was no reason for him to act so unreasonably. But then again, doing something out of the norm was exactly what Castor would do. That was how Ashley could nod her head in agreement without being too bewildered.
When she arrived alone, preparations were already in full swing. Rebecca had left to check on her performance robes for one last time and Fleon had left earlier to inspect the stage. Everyone, other than those who needed to doll up, were already hard at work on the stage.
As she stared at Ray who was standing by the door, she thought of her other brother. Dane. He had been very busy but he was still willing to help her with her preparations in exchange for his sleep. And even just this morning, he had a meeting with the performers who would be interacting with the audience. Watching her maids scurrying about, Ashley thought back on what happened earlier that morning.
“May freedom and blessings accompany the wheel, It is a pleasure to meet you.”
The people of Rome. They were the performers who would be responsible for exciting the crowds later that day. Their skin was as dark as coffee and just like Dane, their eye colours, that ranged from emerald to bright scarlet, stood out.
When she first saw them, she was reminded of Meta from the patrols who had a similar skin tone which led her to think about the man she saw in the kidnappers’ hideout a while ago. The man who looked like Dane.
Just when she recalled him, her curiosity piqued. It was strange. While his people all had skin as dark as coffee, only Dane had pale skin which made him stand out. While staring at Dane from afar earlier this morning, a woman approached her.
“We were so surprised when our chief suddenly asked us to gather.”
The woman seemed to ponder for a while before speaking again.
“Ah, he’s the prince here, right? I’m talking about Dane.”
Soon after, the woman introduced herself as part of the Wheel of Rome.
‘The Wheel of Rome, Dane’s ethnicity? Or are they his family?’
She recalled hearing about it before. But it was too vague. Soon, she nodded though still wondering if that was the name of the family that Dane belonged to. She wanted to ask more questions but she already had to see that woman off because one of her colleagues called for her.
“We stopped whatever we were doing just to be here.”
The woman spoke to Ashley as if she had something more important to do. She only got more curious because of what the woman said but she was grateful for what she had already told her so she saw the woman off without asking for anything more.
“I’ll be back.”
“You have to be back before we start.”
Ashley had to change into her performance attire soon but she headed off to see the 4th prince, Amor. She didn’t have much time but she thought that she had to say goodbye to him one last time.
‘The man trapped in his palace wouldn’t be able to leave it anyways.’
And the thought of that made her heart ache a little.
“… Why am I so nervous?”
The moment she realised that she had reincarnated in the world of a novel, she realised that everyone around her were extras. She had been no different from the background of the original novel and Amor was the first supporting character she had come across.
“I came to say goodbye.’
“The day is finally here. I’m getting nervous.”
She raised her head. With a slight smile, Amor pulled her closer and did not let go of the hand he grabbed.
“Of course. …This is your first time.”
So anxious that she was embarrassed by Amor’s actions, Ashley slipped her hand out of his grasp.
“Uhm, I’m shaking a lot, aren’t I?”
She unknowingly started recalling the contents of the original novel causing her to hide her trembling hands from the man whom she knew would face a tragic ending. She then smiled coolly.
“Phew, I came to say goodbye but here I am being shy.”
There was something she became sure of after hearing what the Saintess had to say, after observing the reactions of those around her and after reading the notes that she had left behind. She had lost something. And that something might have been important to Amor as well. Perhaps that was why she could subtly feel a distance between them.
Something had changed.
The man who had always been temperamental, sensitive and feisty from her memories had never been the type of person to smile like this.
‘What kind of person was I in your memories?’
The question she wanted to ask lingered on the tip of her tongue. What broke down the thorny walls he built around himself? She would be lying if she said she wasn’t curious. Ashley closed her eyes. Anyone would feel unjustly treated and angry if their money was stolen but what about memories?
Ever since she realised that she lost her memories, she had always wondered where the pieces and fragments disappeared to. Even though she couldn’t feel the amnesia herself, she was sad and curious about what she had lost and also…
‘I want to find them.’
The curiosity she had suppressed because she thought it had not been the right time yet started rising within her like tides. But this was not the right time either. Ashley shook her head. There was something more important she had to deal with.
“Please take care of me today.”
Amor then bowed his head before smiling beautifully. The smile on his pale face that reminded her of a flower suited the way light scattered on his fluttering hair.
“… I’m sure you’ll do fine even without me worrying. Because it’s what you have to do.”
The hands that wrapped around her cheeks felt unfamiliar to her. Seeing as how Amor didn’t look awkward at all, she wondered if this used to be natural to them but she couldn’t hide her awkwardness.
Amor too could understand the troubled purple eyes staring at him. In order not to miss him, Ashley grabbed the hand that had been resting on her cheek.
“Had I been used to your touch in the past?”
“… I’m not sure.”
He was grinning but he avoided her gaze. He seemed to have noticed the words she had left out but avoided acknowledging it. Hence why she continued to hold onto his hand tightly.
“Have I changed?”
For a moment, he looked surprised. Soon, he smiled belatedly.
“You’re asking a strange question.”
And that was the end of his reply.
He slowly lowered his body to look into her eyes as if he found her funny. After they locked their gazes, the first person to break eye contact was Amor.
“Hurry go. You don’t have much time left to get ready.”
The two hands on her cheek were vastly different in size. His hands had resembled hers. His fingers were long and thin. Touching them felt like Ashley was touching his bones themselves. When his fingers brushed against her cheek, it felt as if a tree branch was touching her.
“Break a leg.”
Puzzled, she tried to grab onto his disappearing hand but Amor was faster.
Ashley lost her balance as he quickly pulled her towards him. With her arms flailing around in the air, she managed to grab onto something warm and hard.
The moment she raised her head, something like a hook pulled her head backwards. Ashley widened her eyes.
She could feel something soft on her lips. The kiss was so short it couldn’t even be considered one. It felt like a bird had pecked on her lips with its beak before flying away. Ashley touched her lips before looking up at him blankly.
“You asked if you had been used to my touch? Well, you were used to at least this much.”
“Right, I was lying.”
With a slight twist in his lips, Amor smiled.
“What are you imagining when all I did was give you a divine blessing?”
He didn’t try to stop Ashley from moving away. Instead, he grabbed her shoulders and stared at her trembling figure before whispering.
“Have you ever searched for something you’ve lost before?’
“When you find it in the end, you’d wonder why you’re living in the Imperial Palace in the first place. You’d break.”
Amor added languidly and softly. There it was. His voice was bitter, underwhelming, soft and quiet but sounded more powerful than ever.
“I don’t know what’s confusing you right now but I think… it’s better for you to forget about what you’ve lost.’
‘For you at least.’ Amor thought while smiling bitterly. But when she lifted her head again, she did not manage to catch his sneer. When she looked up, all she saw was delicate irritation contorting the man’s face as per usual. And just like he always did, he spoke.
“Because you can smile now.”
oops apologies for my tardiness