Chapter 13: Loyal Subject (1)
“Grand Duke!” Marquis Kelon looked at Enoch with an air of embarrassment.
Enoch ignored him, his blood-red eyes fixated solely on Aran.
“Empress, I am willing to pay a fine for any taxes I owe,” Enoch repeated.
Aran’s eye flickered and slowly she raised her head. When their eyes met, Enoch’s lips drew a gentle smile. He remained loyal to the emperor since her ascension, always deferring to her decree and recognize it to existence.
“I will always follow your will, Your Majesty.”
In a flash, the tables had been overturned. The aristocrats flocking and vying to bite the emperor’s neck at a moment’s notice drooped their head and wagging tails at Enoch’s edict.
Duke Silas, watching the scene from the sidelines, hid his innermost thoughts. ‘Are you still that friendly fiancé, Grand Duke?’
Duke Silas thought it amusing. He looked at the Empress’ expression. Towards the Grand Duke who saved her, she said no word of thanks, only a reluctant nod.
Such demeanor played an integral part in the Empress’ reputation among the aristocrats that she treats the Grand Duke, the head of nobility, with begrudging inclination.
The Grand Duke placed her at the seat of power, on the throne as sovereign of the nation prior to being sold off to a marquis fifty years older than her. In the eyes of the wolffish aristocrats, the Empress brushes off the Grand Duke’s kindness without grace. Some diehard loyalists of the Grand Duke once openly spoke that it would be for the best that he hangs the emperor’s head and take the throne. The Grand Duke did not take to their words kindly, thus resulting in heavy punishment.
But Duke Silas understood the Empress’ train of thoughts to an extent. He recalled the event known as the Bloody Wedding. Duke Silas remembered that chaotic day when he attended Aranrhod Linister and Marquis Maxwell’s wedding. He saw the deathly still bodies of the royal family scattered over the marble floor, their pools of blood fusing together.
It chilled his core.
He did not know the details occurring between Her Majesty and the Grand Duke that very day nor could he understand why the Empress flinched faintly at the Grand Duke’s sight each time.
Though whatever the circumstances, she was able to achieve her goals at the Grand Duke’s support despite the aristocrats detesting her view that undermined their territorial rule.
“This concludes today’s meeting. Until then.” Aran declared the end of the meeting and hurried out of the conference room.
She was no longer present, but none mouthed a word of complaint. Enoch Roark remained in the conference room.
“Her Majesty is truly blessed. It is rare for an emperor to have a loyal subject as great as the Grand Duke himself,” Duke Silas said to Grand Duke Roark, his voice tinged with subtle sarcasm.
The Grand Duke’s expression did not change. Duke Silas was disappointed.
“Is that so? I don’t think so,” the Grand Duke answered bluntly.
“You are cold, Grand Duke, but you remain ever so loyal to Her Majesty.”
Enoch laughed at the duke’s remark. To witness his laugh outside the emperor’s presence was rare and Duke Silas was floored.
“I don’t think I’m a loyalist,” he answered lowly and followed after the emperor.
Regardless, Grand Duke Roark was a military god and Duke Silas shrugged, pondering over something.
Aran was in misery. She was to meet the foreign envoys in an hour, but her sour mood had not gone away.
She comforted herself, said to herself that it was fortunate the taxes were lowered, but the sense of helplessness washing over her grew bigger. She was perplexed. Her decree did not garner the support of the aristocrats and instead relied on the support of the Grand Duke.
She sat on the bench, the sunshine bough drifting through as the gentle wind soothed her melancholic heart. She felt the presence of her servant and said without turning her head, “Did I not say that I wish for time alone?”
“I came to check up on you, Your Majesty.”
That familiar voice… Aran hurriedly raised her head.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
Enoch sat next to her, his large hand cupping her cheek.
Aran pushed his hand away and whispered weakly, “Please, Grand Duke, when others see…”
“I wish you’d value me more in the eyes of others.”
Enoch held Aran’s chin and turned it towards him, their eyes meeting. Aran gazed into his blood-red eyes. His lips were slightly open.
“You don’t look good in dark makeup.”
He rubbed his thumb over her lips. Aran shut her eyes. She did not notice the sad look on his face.
“I put you on the throne to close your eyes and cover your ears and merely enjoy the luxury provided to you. Why do you act a saint?”
“…But taxes needed to be lowered. The harsh winter last season was…” Aran said carefully but shut her mouth seeing his cold gaze.
“And do you think they’ll be grateful to you? They do not know that the seat of power has changed. They know not your name, Your Majesty.”
Enoch Roark brutally penetrated Aranrhod Linister’s mind.