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The Third Empress could not come forward in person, either because of her pride or because she was afraid of Leonis. Instead, gifts and letters began to arrive under the name of Phil, who originally caused the problem.
The letters clarified that there had been a misunderstanding. However, no one knew what Phil was up to when he invited Celia to the Imperial Palace.
Because the prince himself insulted someone who was part of the imperial family, the treatment of Duke Cardian was regarded as egregious not only by the nobles but also by the broader social community.
In fact, some people expressed their relief, citing the large number of prior victims.
“…..Isn’t the prince foolish? He was led astray because his eyes were blinded by beauty.”
“Tsk Tsk. They said the Duke of Cardian is called a murderer, yet he is still part of the imperial family… What bullshit!”
In other words, the public opinion was negative because he had tried to scare his relative’s wife, which was an embarrassment. There was also the question of political judgment to consider.
“The Duke of Cardian is a person who must not be turned into an enemy in order to succeed to the throne. How could the prince have made such a foolish decision…..”
“Even before, wasn’t there talk of him becoming Crown Prince? Even if you’re careful, you’ll end up with a hat on your head… What kind of embarrassment to the Duchess of Cardian is this?”
“Isn’t it better to stop supporting the Second Prince now? If the Duke of Cardian turns his back on…..”
The second prince, as well as his mother, bitterly resented the fact that things were not going as planned. He had only sent invitations to that woman; he didn’t even touch her!
Furthermore, even though the Duke of Cardian was a member of the imperial family, he was still a prince. Didn’t many emperors in the past also snatch their relatives’ wives!
It was a gratuitous practice that served nothing but the emperor’s sexual pleasure.
Because he was busy, Phil tried to send his close aide to apologize in his stead. His retainer was summarily beaten at the front gate and denied entry to the Cardian residence.
Phil felt resentment toward the Duke of Cardian.
“You’re such a disgrace…”
“Prince, you must be patient for now.”
Phil couldn’t hold back his anger even though the Third Empress tried to calm him down. He was surrounded by people who were flattering him but whom he didn’t recognize, but his and the other princes’ supporting forces were about to crumble.
Phil was in the most advantageous position, but he kept the flatterers close. Michael was secretly favored by the emperor, but he was always singled out for having no special abilities. Giel, who was caught in the middle of the two princes, was ambitious, but many nobles wrote him off as an unlikely contender.
The nobles with the necessary power only watched the emperor’s movements and awaited his decision on who would be the crown prince. The princes were wasting time by not being able to persuade such nobles.
As a result, whenever Phil caused a decisive problem, they would break down like a sandcastle and leave him. He would be able to change the situation if he could persuade the Duke of Cardian, but… How could he bow his head to that monster!
“I can’t do that, Mother!”
“Prince! This is not the time to nurse one’s pride!”
“Mother. Even if things remained as they are, I would have more supporters than Michael. They are not the ones who would abandon the cause so easily!”
The Third Empress stared, dumbfounded by Phil’s foolish words.
It was true that Phil was supported by more nobles than Michael. Furthermore, because he took the daughters from his support base as his concubines, it could be said that he had his own bond with them.
However, not every family had a daughter of marriageable age.
Even among Phil’s supporters, there had been many cases of adopting distant relatives or orphans as children. Many of his followers did not want to send their daughters away, so they sent these substitutes instead.
“Don’t be stupid…..”
“I already said I couldn’t do it! Why is mother so stubborn? Will something terrible happen if that monster does not attend the banquet?!”
“His Majesty wishes for him to attend! Are you really going to disobey His Majesty’s orders?”
The Third Empress became impatient and raised her voice, but Phil remained defiant.
Bowing his head to the Duke of Cardian was humiliating enough, but his wife, Celia’s role in this situation, was more off-putting. She should come to him and be grateful that Phil, who would soon be emperor, had invited her, but he couldn’t believe she would tell her husband…… he thought it was cowardice.
‘You are cruel….’
He believed that these injustices would be relieved if he could make her his at least once.
✦ ✦ ✦
In Michael’s eyes, Phil was no longer a contender in the fight for the throne. Phil would become like a dog chasing a chicken if the Duke of Cardian became enraged and sided with one of the other two princes.
‘I was planning to kill him early so that the curse could return to the imperial family, but…..’
Michael decided it would be best if he didn’t touch him for a while. No, Michael had done a good job of manipulating the situation to gain the support of the Duke of Cardian.
‘The Duchess of Cardian….. I’ve seen Celia Montague once.’
Michael was already married, but he had a crush on Celia. Because of her beauty and the Montague family name.
Michael and his wife were in an arranged marriage that the emperor had set up. However, his wife was poisoned at the start of their marriage and had been bedridden ever since.
The poisoning was widely assumed to be the work of the Second Empress. The Third Empress did not have the power to do so at the time, and the Second Empress was frustrated that she could not reach an agreement with his wife’s family.
The Second Empress escaped punishment because there was no clear evidence, but the incident pushed the emperor’s heart to favor the Third Empress.
The Duke of Carta, Michael’s father-in-law, had also changed his mind. Although his wife was comatose, Michael took great care of her.
The Duke of Carta was so impressed that he promised to make Michael emperor and make him his lord. Even after they married, Michael was the one who didn’t like him.
‘Actually, it was I who poisoned her….’
Michael gave a sly grin and scratched his chin. He needed the Duke of Carta’s support to become emperor, but taking his daughter as his wife wasn’t enough to win him over.
It was for this reason that he had poisoned her. Actually, he intended to frame the 3rd Empress, but she was too stupid to admit that she was the one who ordered the poisoning.
‘Even if the Duke of Cardian is persuaded to join my side, he will have to be killed at some point….. It would be good if I can take his wife.’
The Duke of Cardian’s power had grown such that it threatened the imperial family. If Michael had been the emperor, he would never have left him alone, but his foolish father-in-law was wasting time by claiming that he could only defeat Cardian after seeing him produce an heir.
The emperor insisted that Duke Cardian would not be able to ascend the throne because of the curse.
The Duke of Cardian wields enough power to change the emperor, even if he himself could not ascend to the throne. Even though its power could strangle him at any moment, letting it go was terrifying.
If the Duke of Cardian dies as planned….. The Duke’s vassals would have to obey the Duchess of Cardian’s orders, even if she was a Cardian only in name.
If Michael could persuade her to back him, that would be great. Celia Cardian would be much easier to handle than the Duke, who was notoriously difficult to deal with.
‘…I’ll have to meet the Duke of Cardian.’
If things don’t go well, you’ll need to be ready, so don’t draw attention to yourself.
Michael called up his servant and instructed him to bring Joseph, his entourage.
✦ ✦ ✦
‘Have you calmed down a little?’
Celia thought as she looked into Leonis’ eyes. It had been four days since he had stated that he would take a break. During that time, a lot of things happened.
The cunning Second Prince sent Celia a slew of gifts and letters, and married women with whom she had only a passing acquaintance wrote her greeting letters. A close aide to the Second Prince was also kicked out of the Duke of Cardian’s residence.
Furthermore, people from the other princes’ side began to appear furtively. The Third Prince, Giel, sent the Viscount to ask about the Duke of Cardian’s well-being, and the Countess, a close aide to the First Empress, came to comfort Celia.
‘Can I go out soon?’
There was a limit to how many ladies could be called and invited.
Celia had no intention of accepting the Second Prince’s apology, but she did want to wrap it up by attending the banquet at the first or second empress’ request.
That’s exactly what she’d been telling Leonis.
The forces of the First Prince, Michael, and the Third Prince, Giel, persuaded her to attend the Imperial Banquet. Leonis, on the other hand, was concerned that Celia would do something dangerous at the banquet.
Only the Fifth Princess’s power must be taken away because she is the one who will destroy the world. And we need to get those items from the Imperial Palace’s secret warehouse!
‘Since nothing good can come of seeking out any of the princes, you’ll have to get close to the Fifth Princess. This will make entering and leaving the Imperial Palace much easier…’
Leonis pondered the precarious position that Celia would be in as a result of her decisions. She had her own plans though.
‘I can’t force Celia to stay in the mansion. But it’s impossible for me to spend the entire day with Celia…’
His most exceptional knights were assigned as Celia’s escort knights as the next best option. They were ordered to prioritize Celia’s safety and to kill anyone who attempted to harm her, even if their opponent was the Emperor.
Still, Leonis was anxious to let Celia go out. He was well aware that his greed was selfish and shameless. He couldn’t possibly interfere with Celia’s social life while out on the pretext of work.
‘Therefore…… Is there any way to prevent Celia from becoming angry?’
It wasn’t that nothing could be done. It’s because it’s a cunning ruse. Leonis, on the other hand, could not afford to hide the fact that he had once lost Celia.
 Ending up with a hat on your head means their career is over. It also means Phil will not be lined up as a Crown Prince.
 A dog chasing a chicken means doing something futile.