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Leonis looked at Celia as he closed and locked the window. Celia’s glum expression remained fixed on the road ahead.
Leonis smiled when he saw her with that expression. He was now smiling just by looking at Celia’s face.
“…..Are you still upset with me?”
“Do you have no remorse?”
“None at all.”
Celia immediately pinched Leonis’ cheek in response to his shameless retort. Even when his face was caught, Leonis chuckled.
“You’re mean! What will people think?!”
“At the wedding, my wife also passed out…… They’ll think the Duchess of Cardian is in poor health as a result of her marriage to the Murderer Duke.”
“That bothers me as well! What do you mean that Leon is a murderer!”
Celia retorted, but Leonis made no effort to defend himself. He was well aware that he was a murderer. He simply did not want to reveal it in front of Celia.
Even if there were no curse, he had no choice but to bloody his hands as Duke of Cardian. Such were the responsibilities of the position of the Duke of Cardian.
Leonis did not have the luxury to compare himself to other dukes, who were never forced to spill blood. Instead, his body reeked of it. Until he married Celia, that was all he knew.
“…..Don’t give a damn about what other people think.”
Celia couldn’t understand; how could he not care if he was to rebel? Power alone is not enough to make a man an emperor.
As if he understood Celia’s dissatisfaction, Leonis replied,
“They’ll turn a blind eye to me until I’m free of the curse. You don’t have to be worried about what they think from now on.”
She didn’t want Leonis to be despised by them, though.
Celia had heard rumors about the Duke of Cardian, but she had not seen him humiliated. She had just overheard the nobles gossiping about him behind his back.
“At the same time, they despise and fear me. Anyone who can curse in my face…… They’re a bunch of fools.”
When they made eye contact with Leonis, even such foolish people eventually retreated. She wondered if the curse had given him such strength or if Leonis’ aura was too strong for them to overcome.
“Enough of that now…… Would it not be better to worry about something else?”
Leonis whispered, his fingertips gliding down Celia’s cheek. Because Leonis was so fussy, Celia didn’t put on a lot of makeup.
Leonis’s hand rubbed off her makeup, causing it to become smudged.
“What do you want?”
Leonis grinned as she raised her eyes to him. Celia’s waist was already encapsulated in his strong grasp.
“Unless you want me to eat it, I suggest you stop wearing lipstick.”
Leonis sucked Celia’s lips greedily as their lips overlapped. Celia’s hand rose up as if to strike Leonis’ broad chest, then lowered to rest there. Celia was hypnotized by Leonis’ tongue, which had slipped into her mouth.
‘Really! You’re really kissing me like this!’
Celia let out mewling sighs whenever their lips separated, and melted into Leonis’ kisses, which sucked her soft lips… all the while looking angrily at him.
✦ ✦ ✦
Princess Amelia lowered her head, her gaze falling on the dress she was wearing. She was given money by the head of the courtier and used it to buy a dress.
There was no princess in the past who had her money stolen from her because she was the daughter of a concubine, who was a commoner, and could not even receive proper support. For Amelia, attending such an event was an inconvenience because she had neither the apparel nor bathing assistance required to ready herself despite the fact that she was roughly equivalent to a princess in a small kingdom.
She was small in stature because she didn’t have enough to eat as a child.
In fact, her mother’s pregnancy was said to have enraged the emperor. The emperor had no intention of conceiving her.
She was then given enough money to save her reputation as a princess.
She was able to live quietly in a forgotten corner of the Imperial Palace because all of the other princesses had married, and there was no one to bother her anymore.
As she recalled Michael’s voice calling her name, the princess became nervous. Up until that point, Michael had never acknowledged Amelia before. It was the first time he had summoned Amelia to the first prince’s palace rather than covertly visiting her.
“I heard the Duchess of Cardian is having a tea party.”
Michael said something unexpected. She was the only princess who could use her powers, so she had been getting invitations since she was 15 years old. Still, she never accepted any of them because she couldn’t stand the bullying of the older princesses.
Amelia had only received ceremonial invitations since then, possibly because the empress wanted to keep her in check.
“It seems that the Duke of Cardian wants you to attend the Duchess’s tea party. Why don’t you go there to save your older brother’s face?”
Amelia was taken aback when she heard this, but assented to his request.
Michael had a look on his face that said he expected her to say yes. And she had to comply with the congratulatory words as if the business was over.
‘Why is the Duchess of Cardian……?’
‘We don’t even know each other, and the Cardian Duchy is governed by a murderous family! I was terrified and intrigued at the same time.’
The Duke of Cardian was said to be a terrifying demon who took the form of a man. It was even said that the Marquis of Montague’s pitiful young lady fainted during the wedding because of it.
The Duke of Cardian would not show up unless he wanted to ruin the tea party.
Despite her fear, Amelia was looking forward to a tea party with the Duchess of Cardian. The Cardian ducal family was the richest in the empire.
‘Today, she’ll probably talk to me.’
Few people spoke to Amelia –even at events held at the Imperial Palace. All she had to do was extend a courteous greeting.
Amelia attempted to speak with them first, but they deftly changed the subject and ridiculed her several times, making it difficult to converse with them.
‘What kind of person is she?’
Amelia awaited her turn to attend the ball with a look of eagerness.
✦ ✦ ✦
When he thought about it again, he became enraged.
Michael, no one else, persuaded the Duke of Cardian to attend the Imperial Ball. This was an open laugh in front of Phil’s face, indicating that he was in serious trouble.
During a previous meeting, he overheard the emperor openly praising Michael, treating him as if he were a hero who had successfully subdued a monster of considerable difficulty.
‘Shameless bastard! Just because of that…’
Phil clenched his teeth, but he was worried that in such a minor matter, the Duke of Cardian would side with Michael.
True, all of the nobles of high rank were turning a blind eye, but none of the Empire’s six dukes could stand up to the Duke of Cardian.
He wondered if all five families must band together in order to compete with Cardian.
They had been able to ignore the Duke of Cardian until now because they were simply crouching down under him.
The Duke of Cardian, who was forced to torture and murder people due to a curse, did not stay in the capital for long. He came on the emperor’s orders, but it was unusual for him to arrive in the capital so early in the season and stay for so long.
Except for the Dukes of Cardian, the five ducal families have made official decisions about which prince to support.
Michael, the first prince, was married, and Giel, the third prince, was also engaged to a princess.
As a result, the third empress attempted to arrange a marriage with a daughter from one of the ducal families, but the dukes declined.
It was because he had an open and promiscuous reputation with women.
There was a law, regardless of whether it was an arranged marriage. No father would send his daughter to marry into a house where there was likely to be a mistress, an outsider, who would birth a child to compete for succession.
Because of Phil’s proclivities, rumors circulated that even if his wife bore him a child, he would show more preference and affection to a child borne of one of his concubines.
As a result, the third empress lowered the standard slightly and brought the marquis’ youngest daughter. It was also only possible after stipulating in the contract that their first child must be acknowledged by him as his heir.
Phil was enraged, but he played no part in it. He couldn’t stop the rumors from spreading further. To some extent, this was also true.
Phil, on the other hand, had reason to be satisfied. This was due to the fact that his mother, the third empress, was a descendant of the duke’s family.
The third empress’s two younger brothers married into a duke’s family as well. They were the two ducal families who had not yet declared their support for one of the princes.
Therefore, Phil and the third empress knew that those families would back them up. It was a clear situation from a blood relationship or Phil’s perspective.
Because Phil knew he wouldn’t be able to bring the other two ducal families in. The game would be over if Michael gained the support of the Duke of Cardian.
‘No! There’s no way that cowardly bastard, the Duke of Cardian, has already decided on a prince to support. They’re merely attempting to frighten me!’
Leonis spent the majority of his time in the Duchy of Cardian due to the curse, but Phil thought it was because he was timid. He dismissed it as such, as the duke lived on a local estate and avoided politics.
‘The murderer will still be reassessing many things. I just have to instill in him the fact that I will eventually ascend to the throne!’
If that was possible, Michael had already tried it, but Phil believed it was. This imperial ball was only the start.
✦ ✦ ✦
“Giel…..That face again.”
The second empress turned her son’s chin to face her. Giel,who had turned his head in annoyance, slapped the Empress’s hand.
“If you have something to say, say it now. It’s disgusting to see my inept mother’s face.”
The second empress’s lips trembled as she heard Giel say that. In his childhood, he was a helpless child wrapped in the hem of the second empress’s skirt, but that had changed ever since ‘that day.’
“Did you hear about the Duke of Cardian?”
“Ah……. Even if I don’t like it, rumors about the monster reach my ears. I know. I can become Emperor if I can convince the Duke of Cardian, so should I try to flatter him?”
“I didn’t say that. The Duke seems to be very fond of his wife…… I meant for you to win the favor of the Duchess.”
“Ha! A husband who adores his wife wouldn’t be ecstatic to see a man approaching his wife. I’ll take my leave.”