Chapter 7 – Does The Emperor Like You?
After receiving a reply from Patrizia, Petronilla rushed to the palace without stopping. Her face was filled with smiles as soon as she saw her sister, whom she had sorely missed. Patrizia also welcomed her with a joyous expression.
They had only been apart for a week, but to any onlooker, their reunion was as if they hadn’t laid eyes on each other for years.
“My sister is the queen!” Petronilla said in a thrilled voice. “Oh my goodness, Rizi! No, should I call you Her Majesty the Empress?”
Patrizia gave her sister a playful swat. “No, Nilla, just call me as usual. Even if I am queen, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re my sister.”
“How can you say that?” Petronilla chided. “Well, I’ll consider it when we’re alone.”
“Alright. Ah, please sit down, sister. Your feet must hurt.” Patrizia sat Petronilla in a chair, then asked Mirya to bring them some tea.The lady-in-waiting left, then soon returned with two steaming cups.
Petronilla took a couple careful sips, then looked up at Patrizia. “So how did it happen, Rizi? I know the decision is down to the Emperor, but he wouldn’t have chosen you if you didn’t get good marks.”
“I’m not sure,” Patrizia admitted. “I didn’t get good results in the first two tests. Actually, Lady Tricia’s score was high, so I thought she would be queen.” The third test had a large impact for some reason, but she didn’t want to tell Petronilla that.
“Ooh, really? So…perhaps the Emperor likes you, Rizi?” Petronilla said giddily.
“…” Patrizia’s expression almost darkened at that moment, but she kept her face in check. The Emperor liked her? Patrizia gave a dry laugh as if she heard a funny joke.
Despite Patrizia’s reaction, however, Petronilla firmly pushed ahead. “Look at you laughing. Why won’t you consider it? His Majesty might have fallen in love with you.”
“Sister…” Patrizia started. “Don’t you remember the rumors?” She finally touched the taboo topic, and her expression turned serious. “His Majesty already has a lover. For him to choose me…” She paused.
Why did he choose her? Their family was on the lower end of noble status, and he could have chosen Lady Arjeldo or Lady Vasi instead. Was there any special reason he had chosen her as queen?
Patrizia was once again puzzled by the question, but she tried to push it aside. Even if she wondered why, there was no way for her to know, not unless she asked him directly.
“…it must have been a mistake, Nilla,” Patrizia concluded. “I don’t expect anything from the Emperor.” After all, what could she expect from a man who was already in love with his concubine? Even if she did, it would have nothing to do with her.
Patrizia continued on, the light in her eyes dimmed. “The romance you’ve been dreaming of won’t happen to me. The Emperor is not my shining knight in armor. All I’m looking forwards to this place is just…” She stopped for a moment, then picked up her words again. “Just to be respected as queen. That’s all.”
Now that she had voiced it out loud, her future sounded quite negative and somber. Petronilla’s expression saddened as well. She felt a wave of regret that her sister’s marriage would not have love in it at all.
“Rizi…did you sacrifice yourself for me?” she asked.
Patrizia shook her head. “You can’t call it something as noble as that.” If this was a sacrifice, then Petronilla becoming a queen candidate in the past was also a sacrifice. It was a matter of losing the lottery that Patrizia herself had become queen.
Patrizia smiled stiffly and changed the subject. “Come on, let’s talk about something else.” Their time together was too precious to be talking about a man who wasn’t interested her. “Do our parents know? When will they come here?”
“Of course they know. They asked when they could come visit. When would be the best time?”
“Any time is good. Well…I hope they can come sooner. I miss both Mother and Father.”
“Alright, I’ll tell them that,” Petronilla said cheerfully, setting her empty teacup on the table. “I still have a lot of time. I’ll be here until sunset. Is that alright?”
Patrizia smiled broadly and nodded. “Of course.”
Petronilla kept the promise she made to her sister. Just before sunset came, Petronilla left to the place Patrizia was staying, so she could make it home before it became completely dark.
On the way from Patrizia’s room was a small, secluded garden. Petronilla had happened to get a glance at it earlier, but now she was able to stroll through it and soak in its beauty. The garden had a different character to it in the sunset versus bright daylight, and the flowers shone in brilliant hues as they reflected the rays of the dying sun.
Petronilla smiled and plucked a rose from a flowerbed. The reds were more vivid at this time of day. “I could see these flowers every day if I lived here,” she sighed.
She looked up, and her footsteps suddenly stopped. “What…?” She had stumbled on a scene by accident. She ducked behind some bushes, then poked her head out to see a man and a woman walking towards her. Her eyes widened in astonishment as she recognized one of the figures.
It was the Emperor…and next to him was a woman of great beauty. Were the rumors really true? She stared at the Emperor and the woman as they gazed tenderly at each other like long-time lovers. It should be Patrizia by the Emperor’s side. Petronilla hadn’t cared much when she heard the rumors of the mistress, but now that she saw it clearly with her own eyes, she was shocked beyond belief.
“Ah!” Pain shot through her body like lightning, and she sank to the ground, grabbing her neck as if she were suffocating. “Ugh…” Why couldn’t she breath all of a sudden? Why did she feel such terrible grief? It had to be because her sister’s soon-to-be husband was openly having an affair with another woman. And yet…that alone shouldn’t be enough to make Petronilla feel this breathless and miserable. Tears started to flow from her eyes against her will.
Pain. Sorrow. Strange feelings tormented her mind, and she was overcome by emotions whose source she didn’t understand. A few more sobs escaped from her mouth, before she finally lost consciousness and collapsed.
Patrizia ran and ran. She was sure she had never run like this in her entire life. As she turned the corner, she finally saw a white marble palace. She wore high heels, but she sped up without a second thought.
“Ah!” Her ankle twisted wrongly, and her arms shot out to brace her fall. There was a loud noise as she crashed to the ground, and Mirya, who had been trying to catch up to her, hurriedly ran towards her.
“Lady Patrizia!” she cried. She knelt down and inspected the fallen woman’s condition, and saw that Patrizia had sprained her ankle. “I’ll call the doctor right away.”
“No,” Patrizia said through gritted teeth. She was not important now. “I’m alright, Mirya. Just help me up.”
The lady-in-waiting did as she was bid, and Patrizia bit her lip hard to hold back tears of pain. Blood bloomed from her broken skin and stained her lips. “I have to go,” she said, and limped off with her swollen red ankle, scolding herself internally. She would have arrived earlier if she didn’t run. Finally, she opened the door to Petronilla’s room with a look of urgency.
There was one other person in the room besides Petronilla. Patrizia was stunned to see their presence, but she soon opened her trembling lips. “Greetings to the Great Sun of the Empire. Glory to His Majesty.”
“Is that your sister?” Lucio said bluntly in place of a greeting.
It was then that Patrizia directed her gaze to her sister. When she saw Petronilla’s unconscious form on the bed and her pale face, she started to cry. “A-ahuuhugg.”
Lucio was unwilling to soothe the sobbing woman, and he stared at Patrizia with emotionless eyes as he explained the situation. “The gardener found her unconscious on the palace grounds. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with her, so she must have fainted from shock.”
“Huug, huuug.” Patrizia could only sob more. It was rude to cry in front of the Emperor, but when she saw Petronilla lying unconscious like she was dead, it was as if a mental cord had been completely severed from the rational part of her mind. She stepped forward to move to Petronilla’s side, but then flinched in pain.
“Ah!” Her swollen ankle throbbed more hotly than before. Lucio looked at her foot, then slowly approached.