Chapter 5 - What is Love?
“Your Highness, we have arrived.”
The Grand Duke, who had been yawning and leaning in a rather unflattering posture in the comfortable coach, turned into a polite gentleman as soon as he alighted the carriage. He walked with his back tall and straight, accentuating his robust physique and catching the people’s attention. The maids passing by couldn’t take their eyes off him. Agares searched for his very, extremely, tremendously busy brother.
His older brother was the Emperor: the lord and sun of the empire and the noblest man in the world.
But, if he had to be honest, Agares pitied his brother. If he had not had the good fortune to be born the second child, then Agares would have been the one stuck up there working. Although he pitied him, he acknowledged that his brother was a capable person. If there was anyone Agares would readily concede to, it would be his brother. The emperor’s seat was not easy to fill since even such a capable person was still swamped with work.
He was the man who carried the burden of this great empire on his shoulders, but in private, he was simply Agares’ older brother. The two siblings had a good relationship which benefited even more so from the fact that Agares was not interested in the position of the emperor. There was never any need for either of them to compete for the throne. To be honest, Agares would have rejected the position even if the throne had been handed to him on a silver platter.
“Where are we?” asked the Emperor.
“In the Emperor’s office.”
“So you know. Address me by Your Majesty.”
The Emperor, who was busy reviewing some documents, commented on the way Agares had addressed him without even looking at him.
“I am here to request a presence with Your Majesty the Emperor.”
He knelt down, raised his hand over his chest, and lowered his head. Now that he was greeting him in the utmost proper—albeit sarcastic—manner, the Emperor glared at him, annoyed.
“Just call me Brother,” he relented.
“Are you busy?”
“Of course. I think I would have more free time if you helped out.”
“Ho ho, what are you talking about? How can an incompetent man like me help you?”
“What do I do with you?”
Ellis, the Emperor, touched his forehead and put down the fountain pen he had been holding. He rose from his seat and sat down in front of Agares. The Grand Chamberlain immediately prepared tea and placed it in front of Ellis and Agares.
“What brings you here?”
“You don’t think I’m here because I miss you, Brother?”
He added a dash of cuteness to his speech but saw that the Emperor was unfazed.
“No? Not at all, huh.”
Ellis knew his younger brother well. When they were younger, he had found his little brother’s curiosity bothersome. But now that he was all grown up, however, there was no way he would have performed the commendable deed of visiting him.
“I heard you didn’t return to the grand duchy yesterday. It’s time to stop and get married. How long are you going to live like that?”
“Ah, come on. What are you, my mother?”
“I’m saying this because I’m your brother.”
For a long time now, Agares had been pestered by talks of marriage. He was certainly approaching quite a late age to remain unmarried, especially considering that he was a member of the royal family. In the royal family, whose offspring were rare and precious, to begin with, men were customarily expected to be engaged and married at an earlier age than usual. In fact, Emperor Ellis had been engaged to his fiancée at an early age and was married in his teens following the sudden death of the previous emperor. Ellis then became emperor and his betrothed became empress.
“You and Mother are the same. Why are you so anxious over marrying me off?”
“Isn’t it natural for us to feel that way because a certain, adult male shows no intention of getting married and instead just plays around?”
“But I believe that I’m at the age when it’s still appropriate to be playing around.”
“No, it’s time to settle down now. That time has passed, Agares. Even if it hasn’t, the imperial family lacks descendants, so you should get married quickly.”
“You’re not even thinking about having a child, so why are you telling me to, Brother? It’ll mess up our genealogy.”
Per Imperial Law, the emperor’s child is always first in line for the throne regardless of whether or not the emperor has brothers. Their standing in the hierarchy of succession was lower than that of any immediate descendants of the reigning emperor. If, however, the Grand Duke were to precede the emperor and sire an heir first, that child would be older than any Crown Prince to follow, and the line of succession would then become distorted.
“So you’re saying that because of that, you won’t have chil—no, you won’t get married?”
“I didn’t say I wasn’t going to.”
The Grand Chamberlain, who had been standing off to the side during their conversation, stepped forward to smoothly refill their empty teacups in the brief silence that followed Agares’ last remark.
“Then, when are you going to?”
“Who knows? After the Crown Prince is born?”
“We have to get you married first. How long do you plan on going around to banquets like some mayfly?”
“…Mayfly? I’m offended, Brother.”
As if Agares had truly been hurt by the shocking accusation, he grumbled and furrowed his even eyebrows. Ellis laughed and ignored his brother’s grievances.
“If you feel it’s unfair, then just get married.”
“Why is everyone so anxious over my marital status?”
“You’re already of age. Just how long can you continue to live like that?”
Truthfully, he wanted to live forever like this if possible, but he wasn’t foolish enough to say that in front of his brother who had just expressed so much concern over marrying him off. Such remarks would only result in more nagging.
Born as the son of the emperor, Agares had lived in power his entire life and was rarely nagged, if ever. His parents had never scolded Agares harshly nor nagged him.
The only person who ever dared to check Agares was his only brother. As if he was trying to assume the role of his parent, Ellis had been nagging him ceaselessly over many things ever since they were children. No matter how much time had passed, his persistent badgering seemed to only increase each time they met.
If he found the nagging bothersome, then one solution would be to just correct his behavior, but Agares really had no intention of changing his habits now.
“It’s just, I don’t really want to marry right now. What can I do about it?”
Agares set down his teacup and cut himself a cigar. The Grand Chamberlain then moved to light it without so much as an awkward pause in the brief period before Agares raised it to his mouth and took a deep, long drag from the cigar. Smoking in front of the Emperor, his older brother and senior, without permission was considered extremely rude. If any noble other than Agares had dared to do such a thing, the act would have been tantamount to insulting the Emperor to his face. Nevertheless, Ellis did not nag him too much about it.
“Would you like one too, Brother?”
Though he did not make a fuss about the impropriety, Ellis’s response was different from usual this time.
“Next time, please refrain from smoking in front of me.”
Ellis had never said that before. Come to think of it, he had quit smoking at some point.
‘When was it? I think it’s been a few years.’
“Serendia hates it.”
Serendia was Ellis’s wife, Agares’ sister-in-law, and current empress of this empire. Agares grinned while Ellis made a face at the smoke he blew out.
“You’re whipped, Brother. Just like Father.”
What happened to the rulers of this empire? All of them lived their lives dominated by their wives. The late Emperor had not said anything on his deathbed other than his worry for the Empress who would be left all alone. Ellis and Agares had stood by him in his last moments, and they remembered precisely what their father had said. His last, dying wish was not to protect the empire.
“Be good to Lucille.”
Those were the last words that left the Emperor’s mouth before he passed away. His two, perfectly fine sons had been by his side, yet he instead worried that someone would do something to the preceding Empress.
Agares blew a puff of smoke and nodded.
“Fine. Her Majesty the Empress has spoken.”
“But what do you mean when you say you don’t want to marry?”
“I mean that I have found no woman lovely enough to the point where I want to marry her.”
“A member of the royal family saying he wants to marry for love. That’s rich.”
‘Here we go again.’
There was something that unnerved him more than them circling back to the topic of marriage, though. His brother had no business uttering such a remark considering that he was the main culprit of marrying for love in this situation. The engagement between Ellis and Serendia had not been a political union. Rather, Crown Prince Ellis had fallen in love with Serendia and courted her. The late Emperor, the romantic of the century, had immediately approved the engagement. Agares was rendered speechless by Ellis’s detached words.
‘Speak for yourself.’
“Oh, are you saying you don’t love Her Majesty the Empress, Brother?”
“That’s not it,” Ellis answered straight away without even batting an eyelid.
At that moment, he looked happy. It was obvious that he was thinking of the Empress. Taking into account the duration of the engagement, they had been together for more than ten years now. Even so, they were still deeply in love.
The Emperor was young, beautiful, and the most powerful man in the empire. Additionally, he was one of the few people in the empire who maintained his fidelity. He loved one woman and one woman only, even after marriage, and that trait seemed to serve as a bonus to his image. In fact, while Agares was the most popular bachelor in the land, the most beloved man was the Emperor. Although his unchanging affection for his wife made him odd in the eyes of the other noblemen, the support he received from the noblewomen and the rest of his subjects was great.
“Do you like her that much?”
“How does your love not change?”
“It deepens. That’s love.”
A frown marred Agares’ graceful face. ‘You married for love and I have to marry for convenience?’
“If I must marry, then I also want to marry someone I love.”
He had grown up watching the late Emperor, who had loved the previous Empress so much he was willing to take out his heart for her. Even now he saw how the current reigning Emperor and his Empress clung to each other like a pair of lovebirds. Agares’ heart might have grown cold to the thought of dedicating himself to any one woman, but sometimes he wanted to know what it really felt like to be truly, happily married.
Ellis’s eyes widened at Agares’ words. He laughed and took a sip of his tea.
“The word ‘love’ actually coming out of your mouth is hilarious.”
“Why? You don’t think I can love?”
“On the contrary.”
“On the contrary?”
“I don’t think you’ll be able to know what love is.”
“What a horrible thing to say to your own brother.”
“I’m not slandering you. I think it’s pretty accurate.”
“It sounds like a curse to me.”
“Then, let me ask you. Have you ever loved anyone?”
Love, huh? It was a word that he was used to hearing, yet it felt unfamiliar. He had always heard the term spoken by women and had never thought to process it with his heart rather than his brain.
Women always asked him, “Do you love me, Your Highness?”
In response, Agares only ever smiled sweetly and replied, “Only for this moment.”
Of course, he never meant it. Agares briefly pondered his brother’s question.
If he had to pick, she did deserve to be called the only woman Agares was weak against. Ellis sighed.
“You punk…not familial love.”
“Then, Brother, you?” he replied again without thinking twice.
“Am I not your family?” Ellis asked, dumbfounded. “Leave us out. Think of someone who isn’t related to you by blood.”
Agares was perplexed by his question. Someone he loved? No matter how much he racked his brain, he found it impossible to think of someone.
“Erm, I don’t think I have,” Agares concluded about his situation.
‘That’s right. I’ve never felt that thing called love.’
Ellis clicked his tongue, “See?”
“So because of that, you’re telling me to enter into a marriage of convenience?”
“If you think it’s not fair, bring someone you love to me, then. Anyone will do.”
“Yes, anyone. It doesn’t matter if she’s a beggar on the streets or an orphan. Just bring a woman. I’ll throw you a grand wedding right then and there. I’ll make it even more glamorous than my own coronation and wedding.”