Chapter 48 - I Have Returned, Empress
According to her father’s explanation, her mother thought Tania was misunderstanding reality; her daughter would realize what utter hogwash those romance novels were after experiencing real life in the imperial palace with its nobles. She thought it was a good opportunity to shatter all her delusions by having her go.
“But there’s no way Mom gave in so easily,” Tania questioned in disbelief.
“Daddy tried his best. We’ll count this as our baby daughter’s birthday present. Agreed?”
Oh, but of course. In exchange, Tania was to promise her father to not talk back to Mom and swing her sword 2,000 times and shoot 150 bolts every day. Thus, Tania came to the capital to join the lady-in-waiting election.
But thanks to her mother telling her ‘I’ll only give you enough money to cover travel fees and meals, so make do with the clothes and jewelry in the castle!’, she ended up coming in a markedly shabby outfit.
‘I don’t really intend on becoming a lady-in-waiting, though.’
Tania knew her own place. She found fun in leaving the earldom to see the places that served as the background setting in countless romance novels. What fun could there be had in doing actual work as a court lady? Not that the empress would spare a glance at a bumpkin like herself. Besides, according to hearsay, it seemed that her personality was no joke.
She could never become close with an empress like that, nor would the empress show the slightest interest in her, so it was impossible that she would become a lady-in-waiting and warm up to the empress. ‘…Or so I once thought.’
Tania watched the empress absorbed in reading the book she had brought. The bag which the attendants had presumed to contain jewelry was, in fact, full of romance novels, chosen only from among the best by herself.
After Cecile declared Tania to be her lady-in-waiting and returned to the empress’ palace, the latter had cried out upon seeing her bookshelf.
“Oh! That’s ‘He Becomes a Beast Under the Night’!”
Tania was able to instantly recognize the book even though it was placed upside down to disguise the title. A moment later after her involuntary cry, she shut her mouth and turned to the empress, who was looking at her with a paled face.
And thus all the attendants were made to leave and only Tania was left in the room. She stood there trembling, not knowing what on earth was up with the empress, when the latter grabbed her hands and exclaimed in elation.
“You like them too! So do I!”
What ensued was a conversation that roughly went, ‘You too? Me too!’ and it was not long before the two people came to know—they had found a fellow lover of reading romance novels.
When Cecile mentioned it was hard for her to procure such books, Tania told her not to worry, and today she proved her words; everything she brought today was all at Cecile’s request.
“Tania, truly… it’s like you were sent for me from the heavens,” Cecile mumbled to her in a voice choked with emotions in the midst of looking at the books’ titles, which made Tania scratch her cheeks shyly… but it was then that her gaze landed in one corner of the empress’ room. There she saw the emerald brooch she had worn during her first meeting with the empress, lying neatly on top of a soft-looking cushion.
‘It seems different somehow,’ Tania thought. It was a stupidly large jewel, to begin with, true, but it seemed to have gained an even greater shine after it was given to the empress. She felt as if it had become full of light, despite not looking like it was newly crafted.
‘Well, there’s no problem anyway since Mom gave it to me to do as I liked.’ Tania turned to look at the empress again. Already, she was carefully putting the books on the bookshelf. Seeing how the empress was organizing them by size and color, and more than anything, how she hid their titles using thick papers, Tania could tell her love for these sorts of books was not just a day or two old.
“Thank you, Tania. I’ll return them after reading them as quickly as possible.”
“It’s alright. You don’t need to give them back.”
“No, it’s a given to return borrowed books. And it’s only right to buy my own if it’s enjoyable.”
Tania almost nodded inadvertently. Every single word she spoke was right.
“From what Sir Kane says, there’s nothing much going on today. So if it’s okay, why don’t you stay with me until the evening before going?” The empress cupped her chin as she warmly suggested for Tania to stay, and the latter nodded in response. She could not bear to refuse with the empress inviting her with such a smile.
‘No wonder His Majesty is smitten.’
Tania could empathize with the emperor whom she had never met once. Unaware of her lady-in-waiting’s thoughts, Cecile picked up the strawberries left by the attendants and took them to Tania. “Try some of these. They’re strawberries grown in the imperial greenhouse and they are so delicious I tell you. Here, say ah.”
Tania opened her mouth to eat the strawberry being offered by Cecile, but it was at that moment—
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