Chapter 2 - Hello, Beautiful
A very long time ago, there was something Cecile said in one of her conversations with the maids at the royal villa.
“Someday, I wanna do something that’ll make others wonder ‘Is she crazy?’ at least once. Whatever happens, don’t you think it’d be fun?”
Cecile had pondered upon several ideas at the time. Changing all the signs in the royal palace incorrectly, ordering all kinds of food only to eat them one bite at a time, or walking around in winter clothes in midsummer. None of what she imagined involved putting her life on the line… like she was doing now, spewing absurdity towards the emperor in a bid for swift death on her wedding day.
As her mind began to register what words had passed through her lips, her thumping heart began to slam against her ribcage.
Cecile realized that her heart was yelling at her, like so… ‘Are you nuts? What have you done?!’
‘I’m sorry, heartie dear. Must be tough being you when brainie and mouthie are insane.’
Cecile expressed regretful condolence to her heart for the first time in her life, then looked around herself. The attendants and knights who had been near her just a while ago were now eyeing her with compassionate pity. The look in their eyes was identical to how the people in Navitan had looked at Cecile.
Their gazes foretold Cecile of the life awaiting her if she were to quietly do as she was told in today’s wedding. A future where she married a man whom she had no heart for, where she spent nights with him, spent days tip-toeing the thin ice around him for life’s sake, only to be buried somewhere in the end to no one’s care when she ceased to breathe one day.
The very same fate her mother met, where her daughter was the only one to visit her grave after death.
‘I don’t want to live that way.’
The tutors who had taught Cecile for a month also told her, in detail, of how many people the emperor had killed so far, as well as how he killed them. Listening to their recounts, Cecile realized her life was no better than that of a fly to the emperor. No, it was actually even worse. At least a fly could fly away!
‘Better to go out with a bang than to live in constant fear of death.’
Cecile speculated as to what people would say about her after she was buried today. She came to the conclusion that, at the least, her death would leave more records than her mother’s.
* * *
“Excuse me? What did you just say?”
The astounded voices of the ministers rang inside the cathedral where the emperor was present. They stared disbelievingly at the attendant who had brought news. To be more precise, they were disbelieving of the words the attendant had delivered.
“S-spoken word for word. Princess Cecile… declared that, as per Navitan customs, she will not move a single step if the groom, His Majesty, does not come to escort her in person. And also…”
The content of the message so far was dumbfounding enough, yet there was still more the princess wanted? The ludicrousness of the matter elicited a rising octave from the ministers. The pontiff standing behind them was already making the sign of the cross towards heaven. He whispered, “O Lord I pray, embrace the soul of thy poor child coming.” The prayer was for Cecile, of course.
“Th-that is to say…”
“Speak, will you!”
The attendant reluctantly continued at the ministers’ urging. “She furthermore asked, as per Navitan custom, for His Majesty to carry her into the cathedral in his arms!”
“Huh? Is the princess out of her mind? Asking whom for what?”
The ministers could not suppress their inner thoughts, in the end. Faces pale, they chewed over the message delivered by the attendant. As a princess from some backwater small country promised marriage by the emperor of the Empire, it was only right for her to consider it an honor and do as she was told. Have the emperor come escort her himself? And have him carry her in?
The ministers felt their temples begin to throb. They had been feeling relieved that no blood would be spilled as today was a wedding day. They did not expect to see the bride’s blood before it even began. And neither did they imagine the bride to bring it upon herself.
“Are you saying she still has more to ask!”
“That was only the beginning.”
Only the beginning? Those two requests were ridiculous enough on their own, but there’s still more?
The attendant looked agonized himself as he stood before the shocked ministers. He shut his eyes tightly and commenced the list. “As per Navitan customs, she has requested for the flower petals being thrown to be changed from white to red and, as per Navitan customs, male attendants are to wear red hats, female attendants are to wear red floral crowns, and also as per Navitan customs…”
The never-ending series of words leaving the attendant’s mouth caused the ministers to finally explode. “Enough! Navitan this, Navitan that! Is the princess unaware that this is the Empire? Here in the Empire, we follow Empire laws! What gall to rave on about following the customs of Navitan or whatever it is!”
“Ah, regarding that…”
“’I’m sure His Majesty won’t be so petty over this much, seeing how I’ve come such a long way…’ is what she said.”
At this point, the ministers could not even sound surprised anymore. They had asked for a bride for the emperor, yet instead, they were given a psychotic sufferer. It was their first time experiencing such a novel declaration of war.
In the minds of the ministers, the name of Navitan was added to the list of countries to be razed down. They burned with enmity, despite not having even visited Navitan once, but it was at that moment.
“Are there really such customs in Navitan?” A low voice silenced all noise at once.
The ministers turned towards the master of the voice. There stood a young man before the altar, expressionless. He was Estian, the emperor of this nation. Donning a white wedding tuxedo, Estian was quiet, unlike the upset ministers, and appeared locked in thought. The ministers raised their voices at him.
“Your Majesty! What does that matter! You need only give the word, and your loyal subject will behead that lunatic outside and immediately set off to obliterate the kingdom of Navitan as well!”
“Pay no heed, Your Majesty! Their country will disappear as of today, and as such their customs will also become nothing!”
The knights knelt, swords rattling by their hips. How many countries had their swords defeated so far at the order of the emperor? At this rate, one more would be added to the number today. Estian gazed down at the official kneeling before him and tsked. “Didn’t you say to keep wars to three times a year?”
“Upon careful reflection, I believe four times will also be fine.”
“Is that right? Then I shall go to war against the dukedom of Etia next month. Adjust my schedule accordingly.” After declaring as such, casually so like deciding on a meal for dinner, the emperor began to walk away.
“Your Majesty! Where might you be heading?”
“What do you mean where?” The corner of the emperor’s mouth curled slightly. “It’s only right for a magnanimous groom to accept the requests of a bride who’s come a long way, is it not?”
The ministers suppressed the screams in their throats as they beheld the emperor’s expression. The emperor had smiled. It was something they had never witnessed since Estian’s coronation.
* * *
Will it go to the right, or to the left? Cecile was lost in thought as she listened to the sound of music amidst the flower petals still being scattered in the air. She was wondering as to which direction her lopped-off head would roll to when the enraged emperor gave the order.
Bathing in the cold gazes of the other people around her, Cecile slightly covered her mouth and yawned in boredom. Her doing so caused the gazes upon her to grow sharper, and that greatly satisfied her. Inwardly, she wished to cry out to them. ‘Hate me more, please! The princess from Navitan!’
Looking at the current situation, though, she felt that even without her doing so, Navitan would likely be crowned as the next kingdom on the priority list to be doomed. ‘Such scary looks.’
It appeared that everyone was exceedingly displeased with her after she caused this uproar. Regardless of the looks on their faces, however, she did not feel the slightest bit sorry. Cecile was surprised at how she felt; surprised to feel no such thing as guilt at driving a country to its ruin at full speed. ‘Me thinks that I’m born with overflowing talent in being a bad girl.’
Cecile was consumed with regret at having discovered her talent so late. Alas, for her to awaken to her genius on her death day… It was too late. She had not much time left to exhibit this newfound ability of hers. For she would soon die.
Cecile fell in thought as she plucked the petals of the bouquet in her hand, one by one. ‘I did stretch it a bit by making up those customs, but then again I spoke so well without fumbling even once.’
The customs of Navitan she had the attendant relay were all lies. But she had spoken with a tongue of pure silver. She told the attendant all sorts of nonsense, tacking on the name of Navitan for authenticity every time. How will the emperor feel about Navitan once the attendant delivers my words? She wondered. Surely, she mused, his face would ever so gradually contort every time he heard the name.
Cecile took a stretch as she gazed at the still-closed doors of the cathedral, then she cupped her chin. Her maids hemmed as if in protest to her bad posture, but she paid no mind. ‘Maybe I should write a will now since I have nothing to do?’
But on second thought, Cecile shook her head. She had no family nor relatives anyway; no one would receive it. Besides, she had no words nor property to leave behind. ‘I suppose the will would go to the emperor if I die after getting married?’
The emperor would legally become her family upon marriage, after all. Cecile felt a twinge of regret at the time. Maybe, she thought, I should’ve raised hell after the wedding. I could’ve written a batty will, too.
It was then that the cathedral doors opened. Through the doors came out a man in a white tuxedo, who began walking towards her coach. There was no need to even ask who he was. The flower people throwing petals knelt with their foreheads to the ground at once, while the knights knelt in salutation.
‘It’s the emperor.’
Cecile fixed her eyes on the approaching emperor and gulped. She scanned him, searching for something. And the moment she saw he carried no sword, an involuntary breath of relief escaped her lips. She laughed at herself for that. It turned out she still wanted to live even after making this mess.
‘Maybe his sword is too precious for this, so he’ll borrow a knight’s sword to cut my neck.’ Upon rethinking it, however, Cecile shook her head. Nay. Considering the stories she had heard about him, the emperor could kill her with his fists. Apparently, one time he had killed an enemy knight with his bare fists after his sword broke during a war. ‘Born with herculean strength, or so they say.’
The emperor’s unearthly strength was another reason why people feared him. Of course, she thought it was all exaggerated. How could it be possible to punch through another person’s body with one’s fist? As the emperor drew even closer, Cecile was able to examine him better.
“Eh?” Cecile’s eyes grew wide. Smooth-looking black hair and identically colored black eyes. Sloe-eyed and expressionless, his face gave a tad sharp of an impression. But none of that mattered at that moment. Cecile gazed upon the emperor, entranced. And when he finally came to stand before her, her lips murmured words of their own accord. “Hello, beautiful?”
I did not hear about this?