"Would you mind closing the door for a moment?"
Even before Rose completed her sentence, the butler closed the wagon strongly and modestly.
Along with Rose’s elegant voice, a desperate sigh escaped her lips as if it had been pulled up from the depths of her heart. Soon after, the rustling of the dress was heard, followed by a man’s laughter bursting out of nowhere. When Maxim got off the carriage and escorted her, Rose got off with an innocent look.
"You came out. We are here." Rose barely said while smiling awkwardly before approaching her parents and hugging them once.
When Maxim lowered his chin slightly to greet them, the couple greeted him politely. There was still a slight smile on the corners of his eyes. Even thinking about it, it was such an absurd situation just before.
Maxim glanced at Rose. She was pale and looked as if she would faint at any moment.
He managed to hold back the laughter that was about to burst out again.
"L-let’s go in, Your Majesty."
* * *
Katrina looked back. It looked suspicious to see her come out of the building with a lamp at midnight without an attendant. There was impatience and nervousness in her steps for fear of being noticed by others.
When she arrived at the chapel, a dark shadow appeared as if it had been waiting.
Katrina was handed something by a man wearing a deep black robe. It was rolled up to the length of a finger, and without even opening it, she hurriedly tucked it between her breasts.
The woman, who looked at the dark surroundings once more to check that no one was watching, said quietly, "Come here at this time in two days."
The man looked into her eyes as if he knew and nodded.
Walking through the black bushes, he quickly disappeared from there, as if he were a ghost.
Left alone, Katrina took a deep breath and turned around again. The fact that the tribe sent a letter using this method rather than the official route meant that something unusual was going on. Katrina touched to see if the letter she had put inside her dress was still there, and then quickly headed to her room.
When she arrived, she locked the door and went to the fireplace. Her husband, Pierre, had already fallen asleep. She carefully pulled the letter out and began to read it at a rapid pace. As she proceeded, her expression hardened. The tip of her lips trembled slightly. Even after reading it all, Katrina rechecked the contents several times.
When she heard her husband tossing and turning in the bed, she quickly threw the letter into the fireplace.
Only after making sure the fire had swallowed it whole, she turned around as if nothing had happened.
* * *
When Maxim entered the mansion, he was stunned and stood still. He was told that her family and friends would gather, but dozens of eyes looked at him as if he were a strange creature. It was as if their hearts were in their eyes, their throbbing excitement was evident.
"The first one, Ian, is not able to attend because he’s currently practicing as a priest in a foreign country. The second one, Hans…"
Mrs. Audrey closed her eyes charmingly and smiled, slowing the end of her words. She didn’t even know where and what Hans was doing right now. At this important time!
"You’ve met Hans. Ho ho ho." Audrey quickly finished her speech and began to lead people and introduce them to him.
"The gathering was so sudden that only relatives living near the capital were able to attend. This is Rose’s second uncle, Louis Etoile. He is serving as the principal of the Imperial Academy, making a significant contribution to the education of Solstern."
A stocky man, resembling Count Jared, but with a somewhat strict atmosphere, greeted Maxim.
"It is an infinite honor to meet you."
After that, Mrs. Audrey’s lengthy family introduction continued. Isabella Etoile, the third aunt, the fourth princess of the Guttenburgh Kingdom; the elder cousin, Ajani Etoile, the architect who built the Empire’s famous Crystal Cathedral; Jean Moratrius Etoile, a banker with hundreds of chain banks across the Empire and the Kingdom…
Maxim’s eyes, which lost focus as the endless introduction continued, slowly found Rose near the door. She was already sneaking away somewhere. It was embarrassing how her mother bragged about the family every time a new guest came, but as it had been a decade, she had already memorized all names and faces.
The biggest reason was that it was difficult to look at Maxim’s face because of what had happened earlier in the carriage. After hugging her relatives and cousins once, Rose went up to the second floor so as not to be noticed by others.
‘Ah… It’s the same here.’
Rose felt strange that she had returned alive. She slowly walked down the red carpet in the hallway where she ran barefoot on the day she returned, and headed towards her room. She felt the fear of marrying Cassiax and the desperation of that time again.
Now the situation was completely different. Because she succeeded in escaping from the devil Cassiax. She didn’t know how the wheel of fortune would turn in the future, but she turned the directional arrow with her power. Contrary to the overwhelming emotions that overcame Rose, the downstairs was joyfully noisy like a different world.
Since it was already dark outside, when she opened the door, the room was dark. She turned on the lamp and looked around, nostalgic.
A beautiful room decorated with colorful chandeliers and white rose-patterned furniture.
‘Ah…!’ Rose opened the dresser drawer with a fearful expression.
‘I wondered if it would be there. As expected, it was.’
The piece of cloth she was holding in her hand the day she returned. The piece of cloth she tore off when Cassiax pushed her. Rose picked it up with trembling hands. She even feared that if she touched it, she might go back to that moment again.
Fortunately, such a terrible thing did not happen, yet, the small piece of cloth imprinted the unhappy memories vividly.
As soon as she heard the knock, the door opened slightly. Maxim was standing in front of it. Rose was startled and dropped what she was holding onto the floor.
"You! How did you…!"
He shrugged and entered the room.
"I guess I looked pitiful being caught by your mother. Someone told me."
His face looked more tired than when he fought out on the battlefield. Maxim picked up the piece of black cloth that had fallen on the floor and looked at it, narrowing his eyes.
‘What the hell is this?’ That was what his eyes were saying.
Rose couldn’t breathe because of the fact that he was holding a piece of Cassiax’s clothes. She quickly grabbed the cloth in his hand and hid it behind her back.
"I-I was just about to go down!" Rose quickly put it in the drawer and changed the subject. "This is the room I used to live in."
While listening to her, Maxim glanced around the room.
Thanks to her mother’s taste, it was a room that was ultimately glamorous and luxurious. From rich lace and gold tapestries to red satin curtains and candlesticks studded with small jewels. It was a room she had been using since she was a girl, so it was so lovely that it was full of embarrassing props.
"Th-there’s not much to see. Because all young girls’ rooms are the same."
Even though she spoke like that, there were rumors that the Etoile mansion was more luxurious than the Imperial Castle, so her words were too modest.
Rose suddenly became ashamed because she seemed to have been caught hiding in a private space. Unlike her, Maxim felt complicated.
‘How did a woman who led such a life endure the oppressive and rigid atmosphere of the North?’ He had such a question.
His mother, Olivia, could not stand it. As the environment in which she had been living had suddenly changed, she fell into extreme depression and eventually ended up in a tragic situation.
At that point in time, he couldn’t understand his mother and resented her, but it was as if he would be able to understand her heart now. He could understand a little why the noblewomen who came to the North from Solstern were all unhappy. When he thought of that, Maxim became even more puzzled. He raised his eyebrows slightly and turned to Rose.
‘Why is this woman different?’ The question was answered by Maxim himself.
Right, she’s probably acting. Because she is a woman who will do anything for her purpose. Even if she hates it terribly, she’ll think that it’s not a place she’ll stay at for long anyway.’
Rose tilted her head as Maxim just stared at her without saying a word.
"Is there a problem?"
Maxim smiled bitterly and shook his head.
"What was with your expression just now?"
When Rose insisted on asking, Maxim smiled as if it was nothing special.
"I felt it the first time I saw you, but I thought you were an unusual woman."
"I beg your pardon?"
As Rose’s eyebrows rose, Maxim ended the conversation.
"No, it didn’t mean much."
Rose opened her mouth again to say something until she heard a knock on the door. When the two turned around, the butler was standing there awkwardly, coughing.
After seeing what was going on in the wagon earlier, the butler needed a lot of courage to knock on the door.
His mind was imagining all sorts of things happening inside the room. Fortunately, what he imagined did not seem to have happened.
"The Countess asks for you both to go down as the meal is served."
After the butler delivered his orders, he quickly left the room.
The two went down to the dining room together. The butler wasn’t the only one who had strange thoughts after finding out that the two were together in a room on the second floor. The behaviour of Countess Audrey upon seeing Rose and Maxim was not at all natural.
"You-you’re here. Come, come sit down."
The image of her mother pretending to be solemn seemed too strange to Rose. Count Jared was embarrassed and didn’t even look at her daughter’s face.
The Etoile family, which filled the large table, started a lavish dinner. As a family accustomed to aristocratic etiquette, the loudest sound was the clinking of silverware, but a peal of gentle wave-like laughter occasionally spread across the table.
As alcohol began to be poured, the banquet was ripe; the men began to brag around, and the women began to talk about socialites.