Chapter 8 – Live As If You’re Not Here
Patrizia stared vacantly as Lucio held out his hand to her, a cross expression on his face.
“Stand up,” he said.
At that moment, Patrizia couldn’t help but wonder what on earth Petronilla saw that caused her to faint. Was it because she saw this man, her ex-husband from a past life? Or what it because…
Patrizia paled at the sudden thought that came to her. It couldn’t be… Perhaps she saw the Emperor and Rosemond together.
Patrizia wanted to grab the Emperor by his collar and demand answers, but that was a pure fantasy. It could never happen in real life, of course, not to mention it was unacceptable behavior for a queen-to-be.
Instead, she had no choice but to take his hand. She bit her lip at the cruel and disgraceful truth. It was considered profanity to refuse the Emperor, and a queen could not display any sort of disrespect towards her husband and ruler. The rational side of her warned her not to go wild, but in her heart she swore curses at him, something she usually did not do to anyone.
“…Thank you,” she said finally, and took Lucio’s hand to stand up. In truth, she detested that her gratitude was given only out of necessity. The Emperor gave no reply in response to her thanks. She wasn’t expecting one anyway, and she slowly limped towards her sister’s bed, each step as heavy as lifting lead weights.
“Sister…” Patrizia finally arrived at Petronilla’s bedside, and once again, tears began to flow from her cheeks and dripped onto the white bed sheets. She clutched at the blanket as she silently wept over her sister’s unconscious form.
Lucio, who had been observing the two sisters, turned around and left the room. When the door clunked shut, Patrizia finally let out a cry like a broken child.
Fortunately, Petronilla regained consciousness before midnight. She opened her eyes, and found Patrizia lying over the bed. Petronilla suddenly remembered the scene she stumbled on earlier, and once again her heart broke. Alas, her poor, dear sister.
Petronilla stretched out her delicate hand and wistfully caressed the sleeping Patrizia’s hair. She knew that Patrizia did not dream of a prince on a white horse as she did, but at least…she hoped some misfortune wouldn’t happen before her sister even got married. A crystal clear tear slipped down Petronilla’s eyes and plopped onto Patrizia’s sleeve.
“Mmmm,” Patrizia mumbled, and woke up to the sensation of someone stroking her head. Petronilla quickly wiped her eyes and faced her sister. She didn’t want Patrizia to see her like this and worry.
“Are you awake, Rizi?” Petronilla said in a cheerful voice.
“Sister…” Patrizia murmured in reply. Her voice was heavy with sadness—had she seen something terrible too? Had she seen the same thing Petronilla had seen? Petronilla’s heart throbbed painfully, but she kept her tone casual.
“You slept deeply. Were you tired?” she asked with a smile.
Patrizia shook her head. “No, I’m fine. Why didn’t you wake me up?”
“You looked so peaceful. I couldn’t,” Petronilla replied, slowly stroking her sister’s head once again in a gesture of affection. She wouldn’t be able to do this anymore after Patrizia became queen, so she had to indulge herself now. “Rizi, I want you to be happy. Does that make me selfish?”
“…I am happy,” Patrizia said.
Despite the calmness of Patrizia’s voice, Petronilla sensed that she was only pretending. There was probably more that Patrizia knew than she was letting on, and Petronilla’s chest tightened.
“I have you, sister, as well as Father and Mother,” Patrizia continued. “I’m happy now, Nilla.”
“Rizi, what I meant is—” Petronilla tried to say more, but she closed her mouth. She was being presumptuous. Now that her sister was to be married to the Emperor, it was out of line to talk about their marriage. Nevertheless, she couldn’t brush away the sick feeling inside her.
“Never mind, Rizi. You’re smart, you’re beautiful, you’re kind, and you’ll certainly be happy.”
Patrizia smiled, thinking that as long as Petronilla was alive, she would be happy. “Thank you, sister. I’m sure you’ll be happy too,” Patricia said softly.
Petronilla went home the next day. She wanted to be honest with her parents and tell them everything, but she couldn’t bring herself to. The words simply wouldn’t leave her mouth. What would she even say? My sister is getting married soon, but her husband already has a lover? Petronilla could never get between their relationship. In the end, she did her best to forget the incident, and buried it in the depths of her heart.
Two months passed quickly. During that time, Patrizia was kept busy with her royal education. The studies were more intense than she expected, but she did well and said not a word of complaint. If she had to differentiate herself from Rosemond, it would be by this. Patrizia was a noblewoman formally chosen to become queen, while Rosemond was a concubine. At least Patrizia’s legitimacy wouldn’t be questioned, and it was a matter directly connected to her pride.
During the two-month interim before the marriage, Lucio never visited Patrizia even once. She had happened across him once or twice in the palace, but they were never alone together. Not that she minded, of course. What she already knew couldn’t hurt her, and she already could live with the fact that they did not love each other. She had no regrets.
So two months passed.
Part 2. Queen Patricia
What use was it to wear this beautiful dress? Patrizia stared indifferently at the ostentatious white wedding dress. Whether she wore rags or a gown, it made no difference to the fact that the Emperor would choose Rosemond over her. Not that she wanted to be chosen by him anyway.
“Lady Patrizia, it’s time,” Mirya said, and Patrizia allowed herself to be guided out of the waiting room. Patrizia was not nervous at all. Nervousness, after all, was reserved only for when one liked someone. Because she did not care for him, and him neither for her, this wedding was merely a ritual to be played out, not a sacred union.
Patrizia’s eyes fell on the Emperor, who was dressed in an elegant suit, but she did not smile at him. He did not smile at her either when he saw her in her dress. The pair stood next to each other like dolls, performing their job silently.
Duke Vasi was officiating the wedding, and the ceremony dragged on as he gave a never-ending speech. He spoke for so long that Patricia felt her feet starting to fall asleep. She started when she heard the Emperor whisper into her ear. “I should tell you in advance.”
“…” Patrizia did not reply.
“You should not hope for my favor or affection.”
“…” Patrizia thought it would be liberating to tell him what she already knew, but she stared coolly ahead of her. His words weren’t worth returning.
He continued. “Just live as if you’re not here. You’ll be better off for it.”
“Is that a threat?” Patrizia finally shot back.
“You’re quick to notice.” He smiled, and Patrizia closed her mouth. The more they spoke, the more irritated she became. It would be better to concentrate on Duke Vasi’s words instead. Listening to that boring noble was far better than the noise her soon-to-be husband was making.
“Lady Patricia. Do you swear take the Sun of the Empire as your husband, and promise to serve, follow, and respect him?”
“Your Majesty, do you promise to take Lady Patrizia as your wife, as the Moon of the Empire, and promise to respect her?”
Each lie flowed easily out of their mouths. Patrizia almost burst into laughter at this sham of a play, but she managed to hold it in.
“I hereby pronounce you husband and wife.”
The ridiculous wedding was over.
After the reception was over, Patrizia returned to her room, every muscle in her body aching with exhaustion. She was not used to attending long affairs like weddings.
After she finished bathing, she wanted to collapse into bed immediately, but Mirya stopped her.
“His Majesty will soon arrive,” Mirya said. “You must stay up even if you are tired.”
“Mirya,” Patrizia said softly. She didn’t expect the Emperor to come here, even if it was their wedding night. If he were a worthy person in the first place, he wouldn’t have treated her sister so cruelly in the past. “His Majesty won’t come.”
“…” Mirya silently pressed her lips together at her reply.
“Now that we’re talking, let’s speak candidly,” Patrizia said. “I know that the Emperor has a lover.”
“Your Majesty…” Mirya’s face paled as if she understood what she was talking about. Patrizia didn’t understand why Mirya was trying to feign ignorance. Mirya was not a country bumpkin; she was a noblewoman from a marquis family who attended social gatherings, even if she was a bit of a wallflower. It was an open secret in high society that the Emperor already had a lover, and one could not escape the rumors.
“I don’t think the rumors are just rumors,” Patrizia said calmly. “Mirya, if you live in the palace, there’s no way you wouldn’t know about them. Isn’t that right?”
Mirya bowed her head. “…Forgive me,” she said somberly.
Patrizia didn’t think it was her job to apologize. “The Emperor will not come tonight. Am I wrong?”
“…” Mirya couldn’t answer. How could she honestly tell her own opinion?
Patrizia understood her lady-in-waiting’s position, and she gave a faint smile. “Instead, help prepare me for bed. We shouldn’t waste time waiting for someone who’s not coming—”
There was a noise outside the door, and Patrizia stopped speaking. A maid announced a visitor.
“Your Majesty, His Majesty the Emperor is here.”
Patrizia’s eyes shook. What? Why was he here? She stood there in shock as the door opened and the Emperor entered. Mirya gave an automatic bow, saying “Hail to His Majesty”, before quickly leaving the room.
“I see you’re not asleep yet,” Lucio said as he strode in.
She was about to go to bed, but she decided to say something pleasant for his ears. “You didn’t have to come, Your Majesty—”
“You were clearly weren’t doing anything useful,” he interrupted. Patrizia inwardly agreed with the remark, but she had no regrets, as she was not waiting for him. Meanwhile, Lucio seemed happy that his judgment was correct.
Instead of leaving, he seated himself in a chair. Patrizia wondered if she should get them tea, but he seemed to read her mind.
“I don’t need tea. Just sit down.”
She did as he said, and stared at the man who came to her instead of Rosemond. What did he come here to say? She was sure he wasn’t here to spend a long night with her.
“You live in the Imperial Palace now, so you know things,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“The rumor related to me.”
Patrizia smiled at the unexpected topic. Did he come here to talk about that?
“The rumor about the mistress?”