Chapter 9 – Do You Want To Make A Deal?
“Yes,” Lucio said.
“You admit it, so it must be true.”
“Yes,” he said again. He did not deny it, and Patrizia wondered if she should be relieved. Of course, choosing a queen was not purely his own choice, so it was not unusual that he took a different lover on the side. In a way, this man deserved pity as well. Because of his status as emperor, he could not have a relationship like an ordinary couple. Of course, from the queen’s point of view, there could be no such trash.
Patrizia gave him a studied stare. “If you’re here, it must be to tell me not to treat her with disrespect.”
“Clearly. You’re quite sharp.”
This was the first time Patrizia received a compliment that was so unpleasant. She realized that praise could be a far more effective weapon than a curse. “I do not expect your love. I won’t lay a hand on your mistress unless something happens.”
“Then…” Patrizia decided to put an offer on the table. “What will you do for me?”
“What?” Lucio frowned as if he didn’t expect the question.
Patrizia did not show any change in her face and continued on calmly. “If one gives something, one expects something in return. As queen, I gave up your love and affection without punishing your mistress. I’ve solved two of your problems, so you must satisfy two of my conditions in return.”
“You are offering a deal?”
“You have nothing to lose. It’s not an unreasonable request.”
“…” Lucio fixed her with a wordless stare, before finally speaking in a hardened tone. “Very well. Tell me your terms.”
“Two things. First, your successor will be my child.”
“…What’s the second?”
“The second—do not have any children with that concubine.”
Patrizia didn’t want anything else. The best revenge she could reap was to watch Lucio die, and have her grown son take the throne in his place. A concubine could also only serve the Imperial Palace so long as her emperor was alive. Once he died, it would be easier to take care of her after that.
Asking Lucio not to have children with Rosemond was to preserve Patrizia’s last remaining bastion of pride. Most of all, it was related to her own safety. It could be compromised if Rosemond gave birth to a child before Patrizia, and in the worst case scenario, the concubine’s child may inherit the throne instead. That was absolutely impossible for Patrizia to tolerate.
“Can you keep that promise?”
Lucio was quiet for a moment, then gave a low chuckle. “Ha, you’re good.”
Patrizia kept her chin lifted. Her face was as smooth as a peaceful lake, while Lucio’s anger simmered underneath a calm facade. Without saying that he was leaving, he abruptly stood up and walked out the door.
Finally, Patrizia collapsed back against her seat with a sigh. At least for now, this was enough.
The next morning, Patrizia woke up in her bed, alone. She went to her desk, and wrote to Raphaella requesting if she could serve as her queen’s guard. Her close friend was the only one she could entrust her life to right now.
Raphaella gladly accepted the offer. If her father, Marquis Bringstone, died at any time, she would have to return home to become the new head of the family, but Patrizia hoped that she could be around until the birth of a prince.
Raphaella arrived at the palace a day after she made her decision, looking far more comfortable in her armor, rather than in a dress. Realizing that her friend was now queen, she knelt humbly in greeting.
“I, Your Majesty’s servant, Raphaella Bringstone, greet the Moon of the Empire.”
“Dame Raphaella, please stand up.” It was an awkward way for Patrizia to greet her friend, but she had no choice. They were in the Imperial Palace, and there were too many restrictions and expectations of etiquette to do as one pleased. Patrizia, however, asked Raphaella to stand up so there wouldn’t be too much distance between them.
Raphaella got to her feet and smiled at Patrizia. “Since you became queen, you became even more beautiful.”
Patrizia blushed slightly. “What do you mean? That’s embarrassing. Please sit down.”
Mirya set down a tea tray on the table before leaving the room. Now that it was only the two of them, it made it easier for Raphaella to talk, and she relaxed her shoulders.
“Oh, that was awkward. I don’t know how I could get used to that,” Raphaella breathed.
Patrzia gave a reassuring smile. “It’s natural since it’s the first time. You’ll get used to it. But when we’re alone, we can be casual like this, or else I’ll forget how to talk to you.”
“Don’t kill me later when I don’t have any manners,” Raphaella grinned, then turned the conversation into something more salacious. “By the way, your first night…did it go well?”
Patrizia shook her head. She and Lucio just had a terse conversation with each other, and the wedding night ended with just a hostile look. Raphaella’s eyes widened in incredulity at Patrizia’s response.
“But…why? The rumors, are they true?”
“Yes,” Patrizia said in a level voice.
Raphaella was perplexed at Patrizia’s unaffected demeanor. “How can you be so carefree about this matter? Rizi—no, Your Majesty, this is a serious problem. You don’t know how fragile your position can be without the Emperor’s favor.”
“I know. But this is a matter of my power, Ella. You understand. No matter how hard I may try to win his heart, it will not change. I’d rather turn my efforts into creating a better future.”
“So you say. But Rizi…don’t assume that things will just go your way,” Raphaella said in a grave voice.
“What do you mean?”
“If I were the mistress, I’d do anything to bring you down,” Raphaella said with finality. Just because the emperor did not love his queen did not mean that she would be deposed, but it did mean that a concubine would try to challenge her. That way, the concubine’s position safety could be guaranteed even after the emperor’s death.
“Rizi, this is not a peaceful situation. Do you understand what I mean?”
“I understand,” Patrizia replied. She was well aware. Rosemond had also tried to tear down Petronilla in her past life, and Patrizia would not sit still if the concubine dared do so again. Setting aside Patrizia’s vengeance, this was a matter directly connected to her family. In the Mavinous Empire, to be dethroned meant death.
“You needn’t worry, Ella. I won’t let it go that far.”
Raphaella hesitated a moment. “Alright, I believe you, because you’re smart. Just be careful.”
“Will you protect me?” Patrizia asked.
“Of course, in physical terms. But I’m not confident in things like politics.”
“That is enough. Thank you.”
“Good thing, then.” Raphaella offered a faint smile. Anyone who tried to harm a hair on Patrizia would be punished with her own hands. She continued in a gentle voice. “His Majesty could just be having a temporary deviation. His heart may not be entirely closed off.”
“Perhaps.” Patrizia gave an ambiguous answer instead of shooting her down. No, Raphaella. This was not a deviation. If it was, the Emperor wouldn’t have treated Petronilla coldly until the end, and he wouldn’t have raised Rosemond to position of baroness and gave her the queen’s seat. The Emperor’s heart was already closed, and Patrizia had no intention of opening hers up to him.
Rosemond blinked her eyes against the late morning sunlight. Her head was still groggy with sleep, and she turned her gaze to Lucio sleeping next to her. Her husband was so handsome. She raked her eyes over his sleeping form, her gaze growing more heated as she admired his muscular body. Fortunately, there were no state meetings for him today.
Lucio suddenly opened his eyes, and swiftly pinned Rosemond to the bed.
“Ah!” she cried out as he bit her collarbone instead of her lips.
“Why aren’t you afraid?” he said in a roughened voice.
“Because Your Majesty is always unafraid.”
He grinned at her. “I would have been in trouble if you were in the Imperial Palace yesterday.”
“I cried,” Rosemond replied, sweeping a long index finger down his bare chest. “I cry on the nights when I miss you.”
“We stayed together all of last night. Is it still not enough?”
“I can never get enough of you. You know that.” Her fingers descended dangerously low.
“…It’s morning. Stop it,” he warned.
“If we start now, I don’t know when I’ll stop.” He gave a sigh.
“Well… it doesn’t matter if you don’t stop until night time.” With a smile, she finally touched him where he was most excited, and he groaned in pleasure. She was always energetic, but he never hated it.
“You were the one who seduced me first,” he said, surrendering to her touch and transferring the blame onto her.
“Yes, I did.”
It was a bright morning, but they stayed in the bedroom well into the night. And perhaps, they would continue that way, until the sun finally rose again in the heavens.
Even before the wedding took place, Patrizia had her heart set on doing her job well, regardless of Lucio’s personal life. She entered the palace to become queen, not to warm the Emperor’s bed at night. She didn’t want to be trapped with false accusations, and so focused on managing the imperial ministry’s affairs well and gaining credibility, hoping to be cushioned against a disadvantageous position in the future. By then she could rally sympathy and public opinion then.
“Greetings to the Moon of the Empire. Glory to Her Majesty The Empress,” Duchess Ephreney said politely and bowed. She came to visit Patrizia. She had been in charge of the Imperial Household’s affairs, but now that Patrizia had become the new master of the palace, the authority would be transferred to the new queen.
Patrizia smiled in response to Duchess Ephreney’s greeting. “I haven’t seen you in a long time, Duchess Ephreney. How have you been?”
“All is well because of the grace of the new Moon, Your Majesty. Thank you for your attention.” She turned an eye towards the maids with her, and they stepped forward to the desk and laid down towers of documents and books.
Patrizia almost frowned at the piles of papers, but she managed to school her expression. “What is this?” she asked calmly.
“As you know, for the last ten years, I have been in charge of the Imperial Household’s affairs.” The management had been under Duchess Ephreney’s supervision since the previous queen, Queen Alisa, had left. Apart from the Emperor making the final decisions, she had taken on most of the work, and because of this, most people regarded her as the implicit head of the Imperial Family. “I brought these documents here because I thought you needed to become familiar with them.”
“If that is what you say.”
“Yes. You won’t be able to deal with everything right away as you are new, so for the time being, I will continue to run the household.”
“…Then what shall I do meanwhile?”
“It’s best that you complete your education within a year.”
“…” Patrizia gave it a moment’s thought. The duchess was not entirely wrong. She had been in the palace for a long time, and it was only natural that she was better at handling her job than someone as green as Patrizia. A queen should be wise not to remove someone with good talents. In addition, it was not unprecedented. Petronilla had a year’s education before she was delegated the work of the Imperial Household.