Chapter 96 - Paid Acting
While Yuliana and her maids cowered at the low growl rumbling from Girgantia, he snuck a sideways glance towards Cecile. Obscured and hidden beneath her sleeve, he saw her flash a thumbs up of encouragement, and in response he widened his mouth and roared, “Gaaaaargh!” Simultaneously, he began flapping his wings in a frenzy, causing the petrified women to swoon and sink to the floor.
It was then!—a fierce whoosh and an ear-splitting crack resounded in the room! “Silence, you brute! Can’t you keep quiet? Have you forgotten in whose presence you are that you dare make noise!” The speaker barking orders was none other than Tania, standing nearby clutching a black whip in hand. This was no ordinary whip—it had been received as a tribute from a southern kingdom, and possessing extraordinary elasticity, it could stretch up to three times its original length, and mete out three times as much agony. In the hands of Tania, a single lash was enough to dig out a hole as wide as half the width of an adult palm in the ground.
“Grrgh,” Girgantia growled, but he shrunk back in front of her baleful aura; meanwhile, the two of them began secretly mouthing words at each other. “Isn’t ‘brute’ a bit too harsh?” Girgantia whined, to which Tania hissed, “Oh, just get down already.”
As Girgantia retreated, Cecile gently patted his head, cooing, “My, my, don’t growl like that now. You’re surprising the guests.” Propping her elbows on the table, she laced her fingers and languidly rested her chin on her hands, as she gazed over at the slumped Princess Yuliana and her companions. Her lips curved up into a satisfied smile; her plan to start by clipping their spirits was a success.
* * *
C-cla-clat-tat-ta-ta-tter. The continuous sounds of a rattling teacup and saucer caused the corners of Cecile’s mouth to curve upwards ever so slightly. “Dear me, I must apologize. It appears you’re still greatly frightened; I would’ve warned the beast a little more, had I known things would turn out this way,” she simpered.
Despite Cecile’s warm and jovial tone, it was obvious there was not one whit of sincerity in her words. ‘Why’s she suddenly acting like this?’ Yuliana wondered, as she shot a furtive glance at the dragon resting by the empress’s feet. She had briefly doubted whether, in the confusion at the time, her eyes had previously played a trick on her, but now confronted with the sight of four wings, scales, and eyes gleaming with madness, she was certain—it was undoubtedly a dragon.
“The princess appears unwell. Perhaps it’s best to send the dragon back. Tania?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Tania answered.
“Hurry and return this dragon to the basement.”
“Understood,” Tania answered politely, before roughly jerking Girgantia’s leash, causing the dragon to emit another low growl and flap his wings. Another silent war was being waged between the two, as Girgantia mouthed in complaint, “Hey, be careful with how you pull that leash! My neck hurts!” Whilst Tania discreetly countered, “It’s my job to be rough, what do you expect of me!” Despite their argument and the fierce glaring battle, to others, their appearance was merely that of a trainer dragging away her ferocious beast.
Breaking out of her stupor, Yuliana stammered a late response, “N-not at all, Your Majesty. I was simply a little amazed, as it is my first time seeing a dragon. I humbly ask that you grant me the honor of seeing it again.”
“Is that so? Then is it fine to keep it here?”
“But of course,” Yuliana laughed.
“Then let us do that. Tania, stop.” At Cecile’s command, Tania released Girgantia’s leash, and he quickly returned to the empress, like a gentle puppy, to lay at her side. Cecile stroked his head affectionately, before turning back to Yuliana with a dazzling smile and said, “But it appears your maids have fainted.”
Princess Yuliana looked back in surprise, to find her companions unconscious with their eyes rolled back in their heads. “I fear they were greatly shocked, being unprepared to behold such an amazing sight,” she quickly explained in their defense.
“Understandable, I’m sure. I, myself, was quite surprised when I first laid eyes on him,” Cecile nodded, slightly lifting her teacup, and enjoying the fragrance. Her attitude was that of utter relaxation, suggesting the polar opposite of her words, which made Yuliana bite her lips in displeasure. She’d assumed the empress was an attractive, but touched woman, yet it was fast becoming apparent she was a far greater foe than expected.
Cecile watched as her imperial attendants carted the maids out, leaving her alone with Yuliana. “In any case, I give my thanks, Princess Yuliana. The peacock you gifted yesterday”—as if on cue, Girgantia audibly spat out a pure white peacock feather, and flashed a toothy grin, revealing a faint trace of what appeared to be blood on his fangs—”greatly satisfied this fellow.” Cecile stroked Girgantia’s head, and the dragon purred contently like a cat. The empress hadn’t lied—Girgantia had declared he’d raise the peacock himself, and it was now safely tucked away in a larger cage. He had, however, plucked a few feathers from it to perpetuate this farce.
Yuliana’s face stiffened as she watched Cecile handle the dragon like a dog. ‘How on earth is she doing it?’ She wondered. It was curious enough that the dragon, rumored to have destroyed the imperial palace, had shrunk to its current size, but even more shocking than that was how the empress had subjugated the beast. “Your Majesty. I do not know much about dragons, but I have never heard of them being so subservient to a human.”
“I too was stunned at first, but it wasn’t long before I realized that dragons favor beautiful things,” Cecile laughed merrily. Yuliana seethed silently in response. ‘Oh, so you’re suggesting that your beauty is great enough to bewitch a dragon? Is that it?’ Naturally, these thoughts were kept to herself.
“Oh, now here’s a suggestion…” Cecile began, as she tugged at Girgantia’s leash. “How about you try touching it yourself? It will make for a good experience. Come now.” It was subtle, but her tone clearly implied she wouldn’t accept any refusals. Cecile lowered her gaze to Yuliana’s fingers and murmured, “Now that I see it, even your fingers are beautiful… so beautiful that losing a few shouldn’t matter.” Girgantia, following Cecile’s gaze, took the cue and licked his chops. Yuliana paled with fear, and the teacup slipped from Yuliana’s hand and shattered on the floor.
* * *
“Naaargh…” Cecile groaned, plopping down on her bed. “That… was exhausting…” It had truly been a tiring day for her. She had been busy from the moment she had awoken—firstly, hurriedly calling the attendants to bring ice to help soothe the swelling around her eyes from all the crying from the night before, secondly, instructing an attendant to send an invitation to Princess Yuliana for an afternoon tea party, and finally, preparing for her day’s outing. ‘Who’d have imagined this would be my first-time hosting!’ She felt oddly indignant for some reason. ‘…I wanted to hold a bigger and prettier one.’
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