Artizea was well aware of her evil acts.
Therefore, she did not think about being recognized as a good person or being forgiven.
But just once, she asked the Saintess Licia.
「 don’t you resent me? 」
It was a question she asked thinking that Licia naturally resented her.
However, Licia smiled brightly with her gaunt face.
「 Would you feel better if I resented you? Would that make you feel less guilty? 」
「 What can I do? I’ve already forgiven you. 」
Said the Saintess Licia with her pale white lips.
Artizea had threatened her and forced her to marry Lawrence, because the saint’s influence and symbolism were necessary to compensate for Lawrence’s lack of legitimacy.
The whole nation rejoiced to hear that the saintess would become the Crown Princess.
Sometime later, during Lawrence’s coronation, the flowers offered by the citizens to the empress piled up like mountains around the palace walls.
The empire covered her body with gold and furs, and spread silk under her feet.
A woman born in a poor barony on the northern borders became a person capable of possessing all the luxuries of the world.
However, she looked pitiful in comparison to when she attended events in social circles without a single jewel, or when she travelled through endemic regions with infectious diseases, wearing worn out clothes that could not stop the cold wind.
Her beautiful platinum-blond hair had lost its shine and was dry, and her light but lively skin was dimmed. Her thick red lips became pale and cracked.
Lawrence had always been a person with abusive tendencies. In addition, he was now sensitive to the issue of his legitimacy to the throne.
The combination of the two caused him to feel inferior and hate the acclaimed empress.
Artizea tried to protect Licia from Lawrence.
She was the one who dragged her into this hell, so at least she wanted to protect her. And she swore to herself that she would.
However, at best, Artizea was only able to stop him from assaulting her in front of her. But she couldn’t stop what was happening in the bedroom.
Licia was wilting, isolated and abused in a prison decorated with gold pieces from the south.
Licia’s sacred power was powerful enough to save a dying person from death. But she was useless against her own disease.
Still, Licia smiled at Artizea as she looked at her.
「Tia, I’m a much, much stronger person than you think. 」
「Despite everything you’ve done to me or the reason you did; in the end it was me who decided to marry His Majesty Lawrence. So it’s not your fault I’m here, but mine. 」
Licia said quietly.
「I know how hard it’s been for you to survive so far. While that doesn’t justify you hurting others… I’ve decided to forgive you. 」
「So you can take my weight off the big load you carry on your shoulders, Tia. 」
It was Licia who was dying. However, it seemed more like Licia was comforting Artizea, she raised her hand and touched her cheek.
「Thanks for coming to see me. You’re the only one who really cared about me in this palace, except for the maids and the ladies-in-waiting. 」
「That is not true. Even now, countless citizens are outside the palace praying on their knees. 」
「Those people only know the Saintess Empress, not me. 」
After Licia said that, she asked hesitantly.
「Tia, can you hold my hand? 」
「I thought I’d be terrified when the time came for me to die. But I’m better than I thought. Is it because I’m going to be in God’s arms? 」
「Soon you’ll be able to get up. 」
Even though she knew that wouldn’t happen, Artizea couldn’t tell her.
Licia said with a smile.
「Can I ask you a favor? 」
「Even if you ask me to bring you the heart of an ice dragon, I’ll get it. 」
「Not exactly. Although… I hope this doesn’t happen either, if you should ever meet Cedric… 」
「Tell him that Licia lived and died without regrets. 」
「I will, I promise. 」
Artizea promised her. So, Licia held her hand tight.
「I’m sorry. I couldn’t save you… 」
「I… someone like me… 」
「If there is another world to live again, I would like you to just call me Licia. 」
Those were her last words.
Hearing the sound of footsteps coming down the stone steps, Artizea came to her senses.
She couldn’t tell clearly if she had been dreaming or if she had just been thinking about Licia.
‘How long has it been since I was locked up in this dungeon?’
There were no side windows with bars.
So she couldn’t even see when the sun rise and set. Artizea had almost lost track of time.
Once a day a jailer would bring her food. However, after a few days it was difficult to determine how much time had passed.
At first, she was half unconscious because of the wounds from the torture. Now, the bleeding stopped and the wounds healed a bit, but the pain was terrible because of the aftermath.
Her shoulders felt like they were about to tear, and the lower portion of her bloody body was covered in bruises.
She was cold, but she did not know if it was because the prison was cold or because her blood was not circulating properly in her body.
“You deserve it. You evil bitch.”
Instead of making an effort to talk, Artizea remained silent.
There was more than one person in the world who would want to see Artizea destroyed and dead. Among them, Venia would be able to sell her soul to the devil if she could stand in the front row.
Venia was Licia’s maid.
It was Artizea who devastated the village where Venia’s family lived. An epidemic broke out in that area.
It was Licia who saved Venia from death, after she lost her whole family. From then on, Venia dedicated her life to serving Licia.
All Venia’s loved ones died because of Artizea. It is natural for Venia to hate her.
When she saw that Artizea was staring at her in silence, Venia gritted her teeth and spat.
“Yes, I know you don’t have a tongue. Now you can’t spread your poison with your words.”
“Just as you are now, who could imagine that you were once the emperor’s great conspirator.”
Venia slapped Artizea with all her might.
“It’s a pity that they have cut off all your limbs and your tongue, now I have nothing to cut.”
“You’re a scum. Now you look at me with pity eyes?”
Artizea closed her eyes.
Venia was right. Artizea did not deserve to be pitied.
Venia was always loyal to Licia, even after her death.
After Licia’s death, she flattered the new empress and endured all sorts of things in order to remain in the imperial palace, with the sole aim of taking revenge on Artizea and Lawrence one day.
Venia slapped her on the cheeks a few more times.
Now, Artizea only had a few teeth left. Also, blood was spilling from her mouth because of the many wounds she had.
Venia pulled out a handkerchief and wiped the blood off her hand. Then she untied Artizea from the fetters that were binding her.
‘Why did you…?’
Artizea thought it was strange.
Venia said calmly.
“These are Cedric’s orders, although I wouldn’t be content to tear you to pieces here a thousand times. He probably wants to execute you with his own hands as revenge for the people you’ve killed.”
‘It can’t be.’
Artizea knew the Grand Duke Cedric Evron much better than Venia.
He was an honest and fair man, no matter what the reason, he would not go so far as to finish off a woman who had already fallen and been tortured.
Besides, if she escaped from the dungeon, Venia could not return. The Imperial Palace was not such a simple place.
It would soon be discovered that it was Venia who came down with the key and took her away.
Venia was a subordinate and spy for Cedric Evron who served the empress.
There is no way he would waste a chess piece as important as this. At least not on Artizea.
Maybe Cedric Evron gave this order for another reason. Probably not because he wanted to publicly execute a tongue-less conspirator, but because he wanted to save the maid who belonged to his beloved Licia.
Venia would not be willing to leave this place voluntarily without a reason.
However, Venia didn’t think that far ahead. After freeing Artizea, she took off her cloak and covered it up.
After months of torture and the loss of her limbs, Venia could easily lift and carry her body by herself alone.
Artizea was taken from the imperial palace in a laundry cart and then transported in a wagon.
The constant shaking caused the fever to rise in her already weakened body.
Halfway through, her consciousness became cloudy again.
Artizea knew she was being transported, but she didn’t know how.
When she regained consciousness, she was in a tent. Her severed limbs had been wrapped with a clean bandage.
The face of the old man who was caring for her looked familiar. He was Grand Duke Evron’s butler.
“You have awakened.”
Despite being the enemy, the butler spoke politely to her.
“You’d better eat something, if you can.”
Artizea blinked and shook her head.
“Don’t worry. The doctor also said you probably wouldn’t want to eat because of the state you’re in. I’ll make you some strong tea.”
Then the butler got up and left the tent.
Artizea turned her head and looked around.
There was nothing special about the tent.
There was only a pot of boiling water, the bed where she was lying, and an oil lamp.
The butler did not return alone. The cloth at the entrance to the tent opened and Cedric Evron entered.
Artizea looked at him in shock.
She hadn’t seen him in years, but he hadn’t changed. Only his vivid black eyes seemed deeper than before.
“It has been a long time since we last saw each other, Marchioness Rosan.”
“I heard they cut out your tongue.”
“The person who was once the greatest conspirator in the whole empire seems to have been unable to save herself, right?”
Artizea closed her eyes.
She lamented the stupidity of having committed all those crimes for Lawrence, knowing she would be betrayed.
But she didn’t feel guilty.
All the humans in the world are evil. Even more so those who come close to power.
That was Artizea’s firm belief.
But in front of two people in the world, Cedric Evron and Saintess Licia, she was not able to say that.
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