Chapter 1 - The Proposal
Act 1: A Hell of a Wedding
‘I won’t stand for this.’
Cecile gnashed her teeth as she glared out the window of the coach, at the beautiful and vast white castle that could be seen yonder. The maids sitting across from her were at a loss for what to do, but that mattered not a whit. Cecile was so furious that she did not even spare a look at them.
She gazed down at her own outfit. A finely woven lace bridal veil, a white silk dress so smooth that one’s hand might simply slide off it, and at the hem of the dress was an array of sparkling crystalline pearls.
Yes. What Cecile was wearing was a wedding dress.
Cecile was on her way to get married, but she was not the least bit happy. The closer she got to the castle, the more she felt like her throat was being choked. As Cecile’s coach passed through the city gates, a band that had been awaiting her arrival began to play music. The music was beautiful, yet it only sounded like a funeral march to Cecile’s ears.
‘If I go in there…I’ll die.’ In the instant this thought crossed her mind, Cecile’s face turned even paler.
She could not stop herself from murmuring for help unconsciously. But the maids sitting across her did not ask what she was on about. They merely nodded with understanding pity on their faces.
One of them gave a reply and said, “We’ll die if you run away.”
‘Come on, will it hurt to comfort me a little?’
Cecile audibly ground her teeth again before shooting a glare at the bouquet she was holding. The reason why Cecile was grinding her pearly whites on what should have been the happiest day in her life was simple.
‘Why do I have to marry the emperor!’
There was a big problem with the man who was to become her husband.
He was the groom of Cecile’s upcoming marriage. The problem, however, lay in the fact that he was the very worst, insane tyrant on the continent. So much so that none would show surprise even if he were to murder his bride on his very wedding day.
‘How did things end up like this…’
Cecile recalled the events from a month ago.
* * *
Cecile was an illegitimate child of the king of Navitan. The king bedded a maid in a drunken stupor, and a child was born who happened to inherit the spitting image of the Navitan royal family: beautiful platinum hair and green eyes. When Cecile was born, the king had no choice but to acknowledge her as his child.
That did not mean that Cecile grew up loved, however.
Her mother, who was a maid, passed away shortly after Cecile was born, and afterward, Cecile was sent to a royal villa in a corner of the royal palace where she was to grow up. Although she did receive minimal education as a princess, her treatment was no better than that of a maid when compared to the princesses in the main palace. Still, Cecile did not feel wronged.
‘At least I’m acknowledged as a princess.’
Had she not been acknowledged, she would have long been cast out of the palace as an infant. In a way, it was a comfortable life. The king never called for her, and nothing happened as she spent time idly in her villa. A life of eating, sleeping, and playing without having to labor. She did feel it slightly tedious to repeat the same days on and on, but it was better than going through suffering.
Cecile would occasionally offer flowers to her mother’s grave in the corner of the royal villa while murmuring to herself.
“Mother. I’ll keep on living like this until someday I’ll be sold as the second marriage partner of an old, rich, military aristocrat, won’t I?”
The only world Cecile knew existed inside of the books she read as she could not go outside freely. Even those books were mostly brought in by the maids of the villa.
“That’s how it always is in the books.”
Had her mother still been alive, she would have hollered “That’s because all you read are romance novels!” and smacked her on the back. But the dead have no words, and so Cecile continued to murmur alone.
“But I’m not living in a fairy tale. I’m sure there’s no chance of a forced marriage partner turning out to be a cold grand duke of the north who’s devoted solely to his wife, and also happens to be a gorgeously handsome man…”
Cecile read the novels enjoyed by the maids of the royal villa and came to know what end a princess in her position would come to. An illegitimate princess who was not loved but had all the characteristics of the royal family. An excellent product for the king to sell without guilt.
If only she had been born ugly; she could have felt some security then.
Cecile cried, clinging to a mirror.
“So unnecessarily pretty!”
Even Cecile found her reflection in the mirror to be a bit pretty if she were to say so herself. White skin and red lips. Green eyes like the forests in summer and willowy limbs.
‘I’ll sell high, no doubt. I’m the one who’s pretty, but how come the king benefits from it?’ Cecile felt irritable every time she looked in the mirror. Though, that did not mean she wanted to be ugly. The days passed by in such a manner until one day, the attendants of the main palace suddenly barged into her royal villa.
“Come right this instant? Ha, hang on! Let go, will you!”
The attendants told her the king had called and practically dragged her away with them.
“Why are you doing this!”
“You will know upon going. It is something good.”
‘As if. If it is something good, why can’t you look me straight in the eyes?’ And just as she expected. Her father whom she was meeting for the first time ever, the king of Navitan, spouted nonsense immediately upon seeing her.
“Congratulations. Your marriage partner has been decided!”
“…First of all, a pleasure to meet you, father,” Cecile politely greeted the king of Navitan, who was acting as friendly as if meeting a daughter he had talked with only just yesterday. She was seeing her father for the first time in 20 years since her birth, but she felt no joy, no affection, nor anything of the sort in the least.
‘How is it that we don’t resemble at all?’
Apart from their platinum hair and green eyes, her father bore not even the tiniest semblance to her. Perhaps her mother, whose face she had never seen before, happened to be an amazing beauty.
“You were speaking regarding my marriage partner?”
“That’s right. My heart’s been aching with worry that you’ve yet to marry despite being of age, but…”
“Oh, like hell.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“It’s nothing. Please continue.”
“Hem-hem. As I was saying. I was searching far and wide for your groom when I happened to receive a fantastical letter of marriage proposal.”
Really, just who on earth sent the letter for the king to be making such a big deal out of it? Cecile waited for him to speak, thinking that she would not be surprised by whatever name popped out of his mouth.
“To my utter surprise, the letter was from…”
A scream burst out of Cecile’s mouth upon hearing the name despite having braced her heart. ‘What? Emperor Estian?’
“Hahaha, you must be so happy to the point of screaming!”
“N-n-no. J-just hold on a second!”
“For you to be so thrilled to even stutter. What a relief. Now then, prepare to leave for the Empire at once and…”
“Are you nuts? Why don’t you just kill me here and now instead!” Cecile shrieked, giving not a damn for whether he was the king or not.
She had been prepared to be sold off as a wife to a suitable nobleman. But not this. Who was Emperor Estian? A man who was dubbed as the continent’s greatest madman and a notorious tyrant.
As soon as he ascended the throne of emperor at the young age of sixteen, he personally lopped off the heads of countless relatives, sparing no one, be it those from the maternal or paternal side of the family. The charge they were convicted of was treason. The emperor hung the heads he cut at the entrance of the imperial palace as if exhibiting them, striking fear into the masses. One official bravely denounced him as having committed a grave transgression of moral law. The emperor, however, did not blink an eye as he captured the official and his family and saw to their end.
“You wouldn’t have dared to speak as such had you tasted the poison I ate. So I had it prepared. First, I fed your first son the same poison.”
The official’s face turned pale at his words.
“Why the face? It almost looks like you know what a painful poison it is.”
“Y-your Majesty. I…”
Meanwhile, his eldest son crazedly writhed on the ground, bleeding from every orifice in his body until he died. The emperor tossed a sword and a bottle of poison to the official’s second son and said:
“Make your choice. Kill your father and you will live. Fail to do so and you too will eat that poison.”
The official’s second son took in the sight of his dead brother and immediately picked up the sword. And then, stabbed his trembling father. Run through by the sword of his son, the official crawled along the floor. The emperor gazed upon him and spoke in a low voice, indifferently.
“It appears he still breathes, so feed him the poison as well.”
“Your Majesty, that…”
“A fine ending to die knowing the potency of the poison he ordered, wouldn’t you say.”
Only then did people come to realize that the crawling official was someone who had sought the emperor’s life. From that moment on, the voices of dissent in the empire disappeared. After he succeeded the throne, the emperor began to wage war in a frenzied manner. As if all the nations of the world were the bane of his life.
Ten years later, there no longer existed a country that would not kneel beneath him. Naturally, the same was true of the kingdom of Navitan. Be that as it may, why? How come?
“Wh-why in tarnation would Emperor Estian send a letter proposing marriage to a tiny country like this…”
Cecile could not comprehend the matter. The continent was packed with countries where he could find a wife, countries that were not Navitan. So why did he pick this kingdom of all others?
“A tiny country!? Our country of Navitan is most definitely…”
“Yeah, okay. So why did he send the letter!”
“T-that is to say…” The king was cowed and reduced to a stutter before Cecile’s mighty scream.
The king showed Cecile the letter of marriage proposal that was stamped with the emperor’s crest. Cecile took it in hand and began reading. And moments later, she burst out with incredulity.
“I had no thoughts for something like marriage, but I have to get married because of people getting up to no good since I have no heir? And he chose the country to send the letter by lot? Moreover, what’s this? Send me a healthy princess who’ll bear children well since I need a successor? What does he even think I am? A beast of breeding?”
“In-insolence! It is a letter from the emperor. Watch your mouth!”
“You think I’ve got the mind for that right now?”
Cecile hurled the letter to the floor. The king of Navitan hurriedly picked it up and carefully handed it over to the head chamberlain.
“Regardless, things being as they are, you must go. I feel relieved now to hear your voice so full of vim and vigor. Here. What are you all doing! Prepare for the princess’ departure!”
“Since when have you treated me like a princess!”
The attendants grabbed Cecile and pulled her away at the king’s words. On the way out, her brothers and sisters, whom she was seeing for the first time, waved farewell by the side.
“I love you, Cecile. We shan’t ever forget you!”
“I’ll remember you, Cecile!”
“It was nice knowing you and let’s not meet ever again!”
“I’ll take good care of your corpse!”
‘Remember me, what? Who’s who, to begin with anyway! Putting that aside, is that something you’d say to your half-sister you’re meeting for the first time? Why don’t you all curse me instead!’
The princes and princesses, whose green eyes and platinum hair were almost eerily identical to Cecile’s, bid farewell as she was dragged away. Of course, Cecile mightily raised the middle finger towards them.
* * *
‘That was a month ago.’
Cecile was soon brought to the Empire. And there, at a mansion near the imperial palace, she had to study the empire’s etiquette and history for a month. Her studies included what the emperor liked and disliked, and even matters regarding the bedroom. All of her tutors felt sympathy.
“I pray that you will survive.”
And finally, the day of the wedding arrived and her tutors saw her off, dabbing at their eyes with handkerchiefs as she climbed aboard a coach. No matter how she looked, the sight they made for was less “seeing off the bride to her wedding” and more “sending off a coffin to a funeral”.
‘I’m not dead yet! Though I will be soon.’
She had heard many stories about Emperor Estian while staying in the mansion. Mostly it was about how often he killed people. And she also heard that the people of the Empire were very curious as to how many days would pass before Cecile, the wife-to-be of the emperor, would die.
While Cecile was locked in thought, the coach came to a stop. Imperial attendants opened the door of her coach, revealing the spectacle of countless soldiers lined up alongside a red carpet as petals danced in the air. Cecile sucked in her breath at the sight.
To think she had to go die with such extravagance.
She boiled with anger. She had lived quietly cooped up in her royal villa and had braced herself to a life of being sold off.
‘But isn’t it too much to send me to die like this?’ She felt renewed fury building up towards the kingdom of Navitan. ‘You’re gonna live a comfy life after doing away with me like this, is that it.’
If she was to die anyway, she would not roll over quietly. It would be fun to take enough people to stave off boredom on the road to hell, at least.
‘Since we couldn’t be together in life, let us meet in death, oh father. And you too, my dear half-siblings.’
Cecile was not getting off the carriage, which led to an imperial attendant confusedly calling out for her attention.
“His Majesty is waiting. You must hurry…”
The corner of Cecile’s mouth curled up. ‘Well then, if I’m to die anyway, I’m gonna let all hell loose before I’m gone.’
Like so, it was with firm determination that Cecile opened her lips to speak. “No.”
“I said I don’t wanna.”
“Wh-what do you…”
Cecile smiled brightly at the bewildered attendant. “I’m not taking a single step away from here unless His Imperial Majesty comes to pick me up himself.”
And so began her quest for madness.