Chapter 3 - Pray Fast and Sing Faster
Cecile felt utterly bewildered. Never had she entertained the thought that the emperor would be handsome.
‘Why did I assume the emperor would be ugly?’ She wondered. No one had ever told her that he looked hideous, yet why had she thought so? Cecile soon came to realize why.
‘There was no portrait of him, for starters.’
All nobles would leave piles upon piles of portraits depicting poses of every sort at every new commemoration, event, and the like, so much so that a separate mansion had to be built to store them all. If nobles were like this, how would royals, no, imperials be like? But she had never even heard of somebody having seen the emperor’s portrait.
‘Come to think of it, you’re supposed to send a portrait along with a letter of marriage proposal.’ Cecile mused.
The king of Navitan had never shown her any such thing. In other words, it did not exist. Elsewise, he would have surely gone and twittered, ‘Behold! Does he not look marvelous?!’ Though of course, Cecile would surely have yelled back, ‘A scam, without a doubt!’
And secondly, no one talked about the emperor’s appearance. When she combed through her memory for anything related to his looks, all she recalled were words illustrating ‘the bloody devil of the battlefield’ and ‘war god’s incarnation’.
‘The god of war is ugly, though.’
The god of war in mythology was said to be disfigured with every kind of scar. Seeing how people sang about him resembling the god of war, how could one ever imagine him to be a beauty?
‘It is partly my fault for not asking, though.’
In the first place, Cecile had not the tiniest interest in the emperor as an individual, which was why she did not ask about the color of his hair or how he looked right up to the very day of her wedding.
‘But I mean, still. Shouldn’t you give me a heads up at least once if he’s this gorgeous?’
Cecile discreetly wiped away the saliva that almost leaked from her mouth as she took another look at the emperor. Still lookin’ good. So good, that if not for the situation she was in, and if he did not happen to hold the title of emperor, she would have been very inclined to invite him to take a seat beside her and ask for his name, ask for his home address while she was at it, and hold his hand on (non-)accident.
‘Really? A man with these looks is the worst tyrant of the empire?’
She felt such discrepancy that she began to suspect those rumors of being mistaken somehow. The man looked more suited to a theater stage than a battlefield.
While Cecile was ogling the emperor, forgetting the very situation she was in, he began to speak. “The tutors who taught you.”
What about them?
“I should kill the lot of them.” He continued.
Cecile felt as if she had been abruptly doused in freezing water at his placid words. She was momentarily distracted by his face, but the man before her was none other than Emperor Estian! The very emperor who would be killing her.
“Wh-why would you…” The moment she was about to ask why he was going to kill the tutors, the emperor took a step into the coach and leaned inside. He reached out to take Cecile’s arm and pull her. Cecile had no time to even scream as she fell forward, dragged by his powerful strength. She instinctively closed her eyes tight, expecting the impact of falling, but she instead felt as if her body was twirling in mid-air.
“Eh?” When she opened her eyes again, Cecile found herself in the emperor’s arms. “What are you doing?”
Incredulity displaced her surprise. A princess hold, all of a sudden?
“Didn’t you say this is a custom of Navitan? I’m doing as you wish, so what’s strange about it?”
“You won’t kill me?”
“Why would I?”
“I was merely brought here to give birth to an heir from a minor country, chosen by lot, yet I spouted nonsense about making the emperor come pick me up, escort me inside, and change the flower colors.”
The emperor stared at Cecile for a moment before replying, “I chose by throwing dice, not drawing lots. Ah, not by number. I picked the country that the dice stopped on.”
Cecile was rendered speechless by his explanation. Whatever the case, his choice was made with the complete absence of any tact, was it not?
Before Cecile knew it, as she was still feeling dazed, the emperor had carried her into the cathedral. She turned her head to look around the inside.
‘I knew it.’
The way she was looked at by the people outside was intense enough, but the daggers these gentlemen—who obviously looked like ministers of the empire—were shooting at her… The keen edge of their gazes was such that her skin pricked.
‘I mean, I thought the emperor would be the one showing this kind of reaction. What is going on here?’
Despite the menacing atmosphere, the emperor made a beeline for the altar. There he asked Cecile, “In Navitan, is it required to hold your bride throughout the wedding?”
There was no such custom of escorting and carrying brides into the church at Navitan, to begin with. It was merely a tradition that was portrayed in one of the romance novels she read some time ago with the maidservants of her royal villa.
‘Things are going a little differently than what I expected?’
And ten hours later…
‘Things are going a little differently than what I expected?’
Cecile mused over the situation she watched Estian climb over her and take off his clothes.
* * *
The wedding was over in the blink of an eye.
“Have all the ceremonies finished within 10 minutes.”
“That’s impossible, Your Majesty!” The pontiff burst out with a face on the verge of tears at Estian’s command. What wedding was done in 10 minutes?
“Even if proceedings are reduced to a minimum, prayers need to be given and hymns sung, so how…”
“All you need to do is pray fast and sing faster.”
Are you not even capable of that? The emperor’s gaze asked, and the pontiff could only gape in response.
“Why? Can’t do it?” Estian asked, then shifted his gaze from the pontiff and pointed to the high priest behind him. “You there, you look like a man who can pray and sing well.”
“And you also look like you can pray fast and sing faster.”
“You’re the pontiff from now on. Well, what are you standing there for? The two of you, swap clothes.”
Thus the pontiff was replaced, just like that, and the priest who succeeded him worked a miracle of chanting all necessary prayers and singing hymns in but nine minutes. Though of course, he did collapse right afterward due to his lack of breathing throughout it all.
The wedding ended like so and 30 minutes later, Estian was sitting in his office. The imperial palace which could be seen out the windows was still beautifully decorated for the wedding, yet the groom-turned-husband felt nothing stir in his heart.
‘So it begins.’
It was publicly known that he went through marriage to silence the officials bothering him about it. However, Estian had a feeling that this marriage would bring about an even greater disturbance. His work had always been the same. Taking care of state affairs most of the time and waging casual wars from time to time. Since his enthronement, his daily routine had consisted of only these two things. But today that changed for the first time.
‘Cecile, was it?’ He had heard one of his officials who was standing next to him mutter her name, on and on. Estian pulled out a document from the end of his wide desk and began reading it. It was then that someone knocked on the door. “Enter.”
The door opened and a strongly-built knight of red hair entered. He was the imperial knight commander Kane, the man who was called Estian’s right-hand.
“Regarding your order from a while ago…” Kane began.
“The one about the tutors who were in charge of educating the empress.”
“What, you’re already back after killing them? Were they in such a close place?”
Estian had ordered Kane to kill all those who were in charge of Cecile’s education. Cecile had called him handsome the moment they met. This indicated that those so-called tutors had not taught Cecile about how he utterly despised talk of his looks.
It was not that they forgot. It was clear they had omitted it so that Cecile would die.
“No, Your Majesty. I was preparing to make a move when I received contact regarding the matter. I was told that all of them have suicided by poison.”
Estian nodded without a trace of emotion at Kane’s words, as if he had seen this coming. If they remained alive, then the person behind them would have been revealed. It was either that they were educated to commit suicide, or forced to suicide.
“Unsurprisingly, it appears a company of connivers have made their move.”
“Was it not all according to your design?”
“Why do you think so?”
“Because you would have otherwise been closely monitoring everything. But you were apparently all too indifferent to the wedding proceedings, were you not? Which was why the enemy snatched the opportunity, despite their suspicion. What a great bite from the start. Ah, how was the empress? Did she look versed in the sword? Or in poison?” Kane asked, curious.
Estian recalled the image of Cecile at Kane’s question.
Versed in the sword? It would be remarkable in of itself if Cecile could even lift a sword with her willowy arms, let alone swing one with expertise. Poison? Possibly, yes. He did not sense from her the dark vibes characteristic of those who wielded poison, however. In fact, he felt that a mere touch of poison would cause her to keel over and die. “I don’t know about that. She just looked pretty.”
Estian’s words left Kane astonished. Estian, however, gave not the slightest care for Kane’s expression as he resumed reading the document from before. It was a report regarding Cecile. It contained detailed information as to her degree of status as a princess, how she lived, and even whom she met after coming to the empire.
“Unsurprising.” He murmured. Be it the tutors who educated her after coming to the empire, or the maids who frequented the mansion she stayed at, there was not one person who was not suspicious.
‘It’s all so suspicious that she may as well be the leader in all of this.’
How else could her being swarmed around by nothing but questionable individuals be explained? But Estian easily perceived that it was all part of a scheme. The situation had been set up so that if anything were to happen, Cecile and the kingdom of Navitan would take the blame for everything.
Estian put down the papers and closed his eyes. For some strange reason, the flashback of a certain woman saying ‘Hello, beautiful?’, facing him without a trace of fear, was disrupting the order in his mind. Estian felt a wave of irritation at the unfamiliar sensation.
‘The plan was to bring in a suitable woman and smoke them out… It would’ve been even better if they wrung their own necks.’
But what he got was not a suitable woman, but something strange.
“Hell if I know.” Estian leaned against his chair, muttering to himself. “Whatever the case, I’ll do what I need to do today.”
“Your schedule for the day is…?”
“I got married.”
Annoyance spread across Estian’s face. “Right. Uninvited guests will come calling.”
“Well, then? If you’re done reporting, go out? And today, you’re responsible for the security of the empress’ palace. It’ll get a little noisy after dark, but play deaf. Because it’s going to be an absolutely incredible night.”
“Un-understood.” Kane stuttered with a stiff face as he left, and Estian opened the drawer of his desk. Inside it, there were dozens of daggers neatly arranged inside. He picked the sharpest one of them all and placed it on his desk. If things played out as he had predicted, tonight was going to be a wildly hot night.