Chapter 141

The Golden Rose Palace was even more splendid and grander on the inside than it appeared on the outside.

The wide central hall was decorated with various forms of art, which appeared even older than the long history of the empire, and an intricately woven red carpet covered the entire floor.

“We greet Your Excellency, Duke Pendragon.”

More than a hundred maids lined the central hall in two lines. They bowed down as Raven made his entrance.

All of the maids had good complexion and beauty.

“I greet Your Excellency.”

Three ladies stood in the space created between the maids, and they bowed slightly with their knees and one foot pulled back. They were adorned with elegant dresses and had dolled themselves up. Their expressions contained a hint of excitement as they looked towards Raven.

The empress spoke kindly as Raven took on a puzzled expression.

“They are the princesses. You can meet them properly later on.”

“Yes.”

They seemed to be the daughters that were born to the emperor from concubines. It made sense that they came out to greet him, especially when the empress herself had made an appearance as well.

“The atmosphere must be a little awkward because only women are present. I hope you understand, Duke Pendragon.”

“No, I am fine.”

“I am glad to hear that. All right, come this way.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

Raven followed behind the empress while maintaining his usual calm and expressionless face. But contrary to his expression, he was quite troubled on the inside.

During his time in Conrad Castle, he had believed himself to have become accustomed to the highest of splendors, experiencing the extravagance of a duchy. But the Golden Rose Palace was quite different from Conrad Castle as well.

Unlike Conrad Castle, which was magnificent and grand, the Golden Rose Palace was colorful, elegant, yet cute. It definitely felt like a residence that housed only women. Above all, there was a definite reason for Raven’s feeling of awkwardness. There were just too many women.

The knights and the guards stood outside the palace as protectors, but no men could be found inside the palace. Even the escorts of the empress and the princesses were female knights, who all had sharp eyes and an intense aura surrounding them.

The omnipresence of women caused the central hall, as well as the hallways, to be filled with a soft scent. Usually, when the scents of makeup and perfume mixed together, it caused headaches and made it hard for one to breathe. However, this was completely untrue in the Golden Rose Palace.

The scent was rather pure and refreshing.

The men could not acclimatize to the unfamiliar environment as hard as they tried.

Argos kept coughing awkwardly with an uncomfortable expression as the maids welcomed him, not to mention that the maids were at an age that could be similar to his granddaughter, if he had one.

The same was true for Leon, who was born and raised in the imperial castle.

Leon was at a loss from the moment he stepped into the Golden Rose Palace, which was known as a forbidden area for men. He was so nervous that he kept swinging his arm and leg that belonged to the same side.

“Pff…!”

A princess failed to hold her laughter at Leon’s funny actions, but soon realized her mistake and bowed her head slightly. She glimpsed at Raven and the empress.

However, cautionary words came from an unexpected figure.

“I think you need to be careful, Princess Leah.”

“M, my apologies.”

The princess hurriedly lowered her head with a red blush. She had forgotten. The scariest person present was not the empress, but Princess Ingrid.

Even though Princess Ingrid had a soft look, the other princesses all avoided her eyes with a sullen look. They were all born and grew up together with Ingrid in the imperial castle, so they could tell what Ingrid was saying just by looking at her gaze.

- Don’t even put a toe out of the line!

Ingrid moved her steps once more, and the other princesses followed behind her like a flock of sheep following the shepherd.

An orderly garden appeared as they passed through a corridor. Alongside the clear stream, a small pavilion stood erect in the middle of the garden, and seven paths extended with the pavilion as the center.

The seven paths appeared to connect to the main building of the palace and the six subordinate towers. In other words, Golden Rose Palace itself was shaped like a rose that formed around the inner garden.

The empress led the group to one of the paths.

“It’s over here. It should not be too inconvenient.”

It wasn’t just ‘not too inconvenient.’

There was a separate dining room which could fit about 30 people, and more than ten bedrooms existed on the two floors, some big, some smaller.

The expressions of the entire group lit up in pleasant surprise.

It was quite evident that the empress herself was quite favorable to the Pendragon family.

But there was one person whose expressions were not very bright.

“Princess Isha lived here originally, but she married into the Bering County just a month ago… Originally, the next princess would move in, but I asked for understanding hearing that Duke Pendragon would be arriving. It will be free for a couple of months.”

“…..Thank you for your consideration, Your Majesty.”

Even though he expressed his gratitude as courtesy, Raven felt even more burdened.

There was something off… The expression of the empress as she kindly delivered an unnecessary explanation, the eyes of Ingrid and the other princess who kept glancing at him…

It was all somehow unnerving and uncomfortable.

To put it into words…

‘I… feel like I’ve become a target.’

Raven felt a sense of crisis which was similar to a feeling which he experienced when he was left alone in the middle of the enemy camp at midnight.

Raven spoke to the empress.

“I will return after I take off my armor.”

Raven chose the only possible way out of the situation, and the empress nodded with a warm smile.

“Do as you wish. Kelly, show Duke Pendragon and the ladies to their rooms.”

“Yes, Your Majesty. Your Excellency, please come this way.”

Baroness Kelly answered politely and led Raven’s group to the second floor with a following of a dozen maids.

Soon, only the empress, Ingrid, the princesses, and the maids were left in the spacious sitting room. The princesses kept stealing glances towards the staircase until Raven’s figure disappeared, but then quickly bowed their heads when they felt someone’s gaze.

They wanted nothing more than to chat about Duke Pendragon but didn’t dare to do so in the presence of the empress.

“So, how do you all feel about seeing Duke Pendragon in person?”

As if noticing the princess’ innermost thoughts, the empress asked nonchalantly. But none of the princesses gave an answer, and they looked around at each other anxiously.

The empress continued with a deeper smile.

“Hmm, I think that only Duke Pendragon is still unmarried among the dukes and the High Lords. Moreover, His Majesty seemed to be wanting to deepen his relationship with Duke Pendragon.”

“……!”

The princesses flinched, then they all turned their gazes towards Ingrid. Ingrid’s expression was rather strange as she looked at her mother. Her face was in a slight frown, as if she was a little taken back.

‘Why is she saying such words?’

‘Yes, I wonder. I thought it was already determined that Princess Ingrid was to be married off to the Pendragon family.’

Princess Ingrid seems to be a little flustered judging from her expression.’

The princesses conversed with just their eyes, then tilted their heads in confusion.

“Hm, maybe I chose this place as Duke Pendragon’s residence for no reason? I guess not everyone is very fond of the decision.”

“N, not at all, Your Majesty.”

How could that be? The princesses quickly shook their heads.

“I’m glad to hear that. I think he will stay here for a while, so everyone should take a thorough look. Whoever it may be, if you establish a good relationship with him, the royal family will fan the fire.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

The princesses replied in chorus with delight.

To sum up the empress’ words and Ingrid’s reaction…

‘So, nothing is confirmed yet?’

‘Then that means we might also have…’

‘There’s a chance!’

The princesses’ eyes started to glimmer.

Even though they were the daughters of the emperor, the fate of the concubines’ children was decided from birth. They were to become a means of consolidating power and authority for the emperor and the empire.

The hot romance between a princess and a young, handsome noble knight only existed in storybooks.

All the princesses married into prestigious noble families of the empire, regardless of their intentions. If they were lucky, they would be able to marry a family’s heir or a lord that was similar to them in age.

As such, the age, appearance, and personality of their partner were left to lady luck.

Today, however, the head of a duchy had come to the Golden Rose Palace. He was unmarried and had no fiancé, and he was the young master of one of the most prestigious families in the empire.

He was not corrupt, ugly, or a weakling, but a handsome and wonderful knight who caused the hearts of the ladies to pound madly. He wore dazzling silver-white armor and appeared in front of the princesses just like the protagonist of a storybook.

Alan Pendragon was also renowned throughout the empire. His various accomplishments were widespread even in the imperial castle and had even penetrated the depths of the Golden Rose Palace as well.

If they were destined to be married off regardless of their will, the best possible groom was Duke Pendragon, without hesitation.

The empress came forward and urged them to make a connection with Duke Pendragon, even though the princesses thought Ingrid would be set up with the Duke.

‘I will…!’

‘No, I am!’

‘I can, too!’

The eyes and the attitudes of the princesses changed rapidly. They had already given up halfway, but a new hope lighted their path.

On the contrary, Ingrid’s complexion rapidly darkened.

“M, mother…”

“What is it, Ingrid?”

“….It’s nothing.”

Ingrid bit her lips and shook her head in response to the empress’ probing expression.

She had forgotten for a moment. She and Alan Pendragon had already broken off an engagement once.

Of course, it was her brother, Ian, who had come forward and spoke of the matter, but Ingrid had been the one to speak her mind first.

At that time, her mother, the empress, opposed the decision until the end. After the break-off, the empress had refused to see Ingrid for a while. Of course, the matter transpired years ago.

But then a miracle occurred. Alan Pendragon, who had been expected to finish his life lying on a bed, had miraculously resurrected. Ingrid came to possess an emotion that was beyond simple interest towards her old fiancé after she met him for the first time in around ten years.

But she could not express her feelings towards the emperor or the empress when it had been her who brought up the matter of the break-up.

Naturally, the matter would be solved if Duke Pendragon himself asked for it, but unfortunately, he did not seem very interested.

Thus, she had anxiously waited for his arrival with a glimmer of hope.

However, when the empress heard the news regarding Duke Pendragon’s journey, she began to make preparations at the Golden Rose Palace.

Ingrid had a small hope, a small hope that her mother would support her once again. So when she had first gone to greet him at the Thistle Palace, her heart throbbed to the point of bursting at the possibility of making Duke Pendragon her man.

But her mother just declared in front of her and the other princesses that whoever it may be, she would send a princess to the Pendragon Duchy.

‘What do I do…’

The other princesses were enthusiastic and excited, but Ingrid’s heart continued to burn in anxiety.

***

“Then Brother, we will head down first.”

“Sure.”

Irene and Lindsay asked for Raven’s permission before heading off the second-floor corridors with their maids. Raven had yet to take off his armor.

‘They’re all so pretty…’

Unlike Irene, who openly strode forward with proud eyes, Lindsay was a little intimidated by the beauty of the beautiful and slim women of the imperial castle.

Besides, all the princesses she met a while ago were real ladies that had as much elegance and grace as Irene and Luna.

‘Princess Ingrid and even the empress…’

She felt so nervous that it felt as if her heart would jump out of her mouth. She attempted to regain her calm by controlling her breathing, but it wasn’t easy.

It was a miracle for her, who was only a maid of Conrad Castle until the beginning of the year, to not faint after seeing the emperor in person. But then, even the empress and the princesses had personally come out to welcome them…

‘Calm down. Lady Irene is here, and the duchess will be here soon. Most importantly, His Grace, no, His Excellency Duke Pendragon is here.’

Her racing heart calmed down like magic when she thought of Raven’s face.

A little while later, the two ladies arrived at the first floor’s sitting room.

“His Excellency Duke Pendragon will be down soon, Your Majesty.”

“I see. Now, come sit over here, Lady Irene and Baroness Conrad.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

Irene greeted Ingrid and the other princesses with her gaze, then walked up to the chair before gracefully sitting down with her dress slightly raised. Irene’s gestures were so perfect that they could be considered the standards on how a noble lady should behave.

But… as opposed to Irene, Lindsay appeared nervous and awkward to everyone.

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