Chapter 142

Eventually, the empress and the princesses’ interest naturally headed towards Irene.

“You truly do resemble Duchess Elena the more I look at you.”

“I am flattered.”

Irene answered in a gentle voice while shyly lowering her eyes.

The empress once again nodded in a satisfied manner.

“When I first arrived at the imperial castle, Duchess Elena truly helped me a lot. She took care of me when I had no one to rely on. We sometimes decorated the Golden Rose Palace together. Even though we were young, she was extremely skilled at embroidering… Ah, right!”

The empress smiled brightly as she recalled the past, then brought something out.

It was a handkerchief that was finely embroidered with the crest of the imperial family.

“This is a present that was given to me by Duchess Elena on the day she left for the Pendragon family. I still treasure it.”

“Wow…”

The princesses let out breaths of astonishment.

Just like themselves, Elena Pendragon was not a princess of direct descent. They were not required to do anything because of their special status, even though they were considered second to the direct descendants.

However, Elena was so good at embroidery that she created such a delicate and pretty handkerchief. For princesses who grew up without having to do anything by themselves, it was quite a surprise.

“Mother mentioned it as well. Although it was short, the time she spent in the palace with your majesty became an unforgettable memory.”

“I see, I am glad.”

The gaze of the empress turned hazy.

The girl, who was only 13 or 14 at the time, always smiled brightly and led herself around the palace. Before Baroness Kelly arrived, it was thanks to her that the empress was able to overcome her loneliness in the imperial castle.

The young girl who was sitting in front of her now looked exactly like Elena at the time.

“Kelly, please bring it.”

Simmering in the pleasant memories, the empress gestured towards Baroness Kelly with a smile.

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

Soon Baroness Kelly brought forth an object and placed it in front of Irene and Lindsay.

They were two small boxes carved from jade and decorated with gold.

“It is a small gift. Open it, I don’t know if you would like it.”

The two girls carefully opened the jade boxes, then their eyes quivered at the sight of the objects inside the box.

It was a silver ring that looked rather ordinary at first sight. But the two ladies quickly noticed that it was an extraordinary object.

The ring wasn’t carved out of gold or silver like other regular rings. It was unbelievable, but the ring inside the jade box was composed of dozens of metal strands as thin as linen. They glistened magically under the light, and it was mysterious and beautiful enough to captivate the two girls, even though they were usually not greedy for material things.

“It’s made of orcon. It was crafted by a dwarven craftsman from the Green Mountains. It was blessed personally by the high priest, and it has the power to repel evil sorcery that goes against the will of the goddess.”

“Ah…. How could we…. Something this precious…”

Orcon was more precious than gold.

Dwarves were known to be fanatical about gold, but even they wouldn’t trade a box of gold for a handful of orcon. It was unimaginable how valuable the ring was, that it was made of orcon threads and personally blessed by the high priest.

“Try it on.”

Irene and Lindsay carefully put the rings on their fingers.

Shhhh.

The orcon strands that formed the ring moved as if they were living creatures, and quickly adjusted in size to fit the fingers of the two ladies.

“Wow…”

Irene and Lindsay, as well as the princesses, were all amazed.

Irene looked at the ring on her finger with an entranced expression, then quickly regained her senses and bowed to the empress.

“I don’t know how to thank you for this precious gift, Your Majesty.”

“T, thank you, Your Majesty.”

“Yes, it suits both of you very well. I am glad that both of you seem to be liking the gift.”

The princesses gazed at the rings with envious eyes at the empress’ words.

But somehow, their glances were different when they looked at Irene compared to Lindsay. Their gazes toward Irene were filled with praise and admiration, but they looked towards Lindsay with conspicuous envy.

“It suits you wonderfully, Lady Pendragon.”

“How could your hands be so fair…?”

“May I call you Irene?”

They went even further and started to feign closeness to Irene.

‘These things…’

However, Irene Pendragon possessed the quickest wit out of everyone in Conrad Castle, so there was no way she was unaware of the princesses’ intentions from their actions.

It was clear that the princesses knew Lindsay’s background as a maid. They must be thinking that they were not compatible with a concubine who stemmed from a lowly background.

Most importantly, the empress’ attention was also being focused on herself rather than Lindsay.

‘What should I do…’

Irene became upset when she saw the sight of Lindsay twirling her fingers around the ring with her head down, as if she had read the general atmosphere that was unfriendly towards her. But unfortunately, there was nothing Irene could do.

The honor of the entire Pendragon Duchy was at stake with each one of her actions. Above all else, she could not afford to be rash in front of the empress.

“I heard that there are many cool knights in the Pendragon Duchy?”

“Is Lady Irene close to Lady Seyrod? I heard she is a great beauty.”

Nevertheless, Irene began to get more and more irritated as she observed Lindsay being blatantly ignored by the princesses.

“I…”

Irene could not hold it in anymore, so she started speaking. However, her words were interrupted as the princesses’ gazes all turned simultaneously.

“Ah, Duke Pendragon.”

“I’m a little late.”

Raven bowed to the empress. He had changed into casual clothing. Due to the nature of the gathering, Leon and Argos had not accompanied him.

“Not at all. It allowed us ladies to become well-acquainted with each other. Now, come sit over here.”

Raven’s eyebrows wriggled slightly when he saw the seat the empress gestured towards. It happened to be the seat that rested between the three princesses and Ingrid.

But he could not reject the empress’ consideration, so he sighed inwardly and moved his steps.

As Raven sat down, the princesses suddenly became quiet, even though they had been talking loudly to Irene just a moment ago. They kept busily stealing glances at Raven with flushed expressions.

The blatant glances made Raven feel as if he was sitting on a cushion of thorns. The empress initiated a conversation as if noticing Raven’s discomfort and the awkward atmosphere.

“What do you think about the Golden Rose Palace?”

“Yes, even though I heard from the duchess, it truly is more beautiful than the rumors.”

Raven answered half-heartedly out of courtesy while he brought a cup of tea to his lips. The empress responded by looking around the room with a strange expression.

“I was talking about the princesses. How are they? Do any of them catch your fancy?”

“…!”

Raven almost spat out his tea at the totally unexpected remark. He had never expected for the empress to say such blunt words. His body froze, his hands holding the teacup mid-air.

The princesses were also startled as well.

“Y, Your Majesty!”

“I’m embarrassed…”

Even as their faces became deeply flushed, they kept glancing at Raven with excited eyes.

Ingrid looked alternatingly at the empress and Raven while her large eyes quivered incessantly.

“Well, I, it’s still…”

“Hoo-ho. Yes, I guess I got ahead of myself.”

The empress covered her mouth and laughed when Raven couldn’t conceal his awkwardness.

“Let’s see. It’s getting a little late, and it would be better for young people to have some time to themselves. I have to overlook the preparations for the banquet, so I will get going now. Please talk casually among yourselves and get to know each other as well.”

The empress stood up slowly with her words, and everyone followed suit.

“Not at all, Your Majesty. Please allow us to have a bit more of your time.”

Irene spoke with a sincere expression of regret.

“There are plenty of opportunities in the future, Lady Irene. Then, I’ve got to get going.”

“Please take care, Your Majesty.”

Raven spoke, and the ladies all bent their knees towards the empress and bowed their heads. The empress nodded her head with a gracious smile and shifted her steps. All of a sudden, she stopped and turned her head.

“Don’t forget my words, Duke Pendragon.”

“Yes…?”

“The princesses. Please take a good look at them during your stay here. It’s a personal request of mine. Then, farewell.”

Without waiting for a response, the empress walked out of the sitting room accompanied by Baroness Kelly and a dozen maids.

“…….”

Raven was dumbfounded. He kept his gaze on the disappearing empress with a blank, dazed expression.

‘This is going to be a problem…’

After the empress had completely disappeared, Raven sat down on his chair while clicking his tongue inwardly.

Vincent had warned him before Raven left for the imperial castle, and he had his own guesses as well, but he had never expected the empress to speak so openly.

Besides, princesses?

Vincent and Raven agreed that the empress might try to reunite Raven with Ingrid. Even though an engagement had been broken off once already, it would not be too difficult for the royal family to reverse their decision.

However, the empress did not bring up matters regarding her biological daughter. Rather, she pushed for the other princesses that the empress had no particular reason to care for.

‘What is her intention? Hmm?’

Raven stroked his chin out of habit, then flinched.

For some reason, he felt a target on his back once more.

‘No way…’

He slowly raised his gaze.

Sure enough, all six ladies were staring intently at him. The silent pressure forced Raven to finally open his mouth.

“Well, I think you should tell me your names first.”

“Yes! Your excellency, my name is Leah! My mother is the second daughter of Count Fred’s family…”

“I am the third daughter of His Majesty the emperor, Sylvia, Your Excellency. When I heard about the heroic deeds of Your Excellency Duke Pendragon I…”

“I am the fourth daughter, Elaine. I had always hoped to meet the Duke of Pendragon.”

The princesses jabbered away simultaneously as if they had been waiting.

Normally, they would hold their tongue in fear of Ingrid, but the empress had already told them to get closer to Duke Pendragon. They had nothing to be afraid of.

Naturally, Ingrid’s expression turned dark. Ingrid was always confident, but it was frustrating to see the princesses start acting openly to capture Duke Pendragon’s attention. Moreover, Duke Pendragon’s lack of interest in her added fuel to the fire.

‘This can’t continue. I need to do something…’

Ingrid rekindled her determination and opened her mouth to speak when…

“Brother Alan.”

Irene’s gentle voice cut off the words of the princesses and Ingrid.

“Take a look at this. The empress gave it to me as a gift, isn’t it beautiful?”

Raven hurriedly replied as he switched his attention to the ring. He was thankful to his cheeky sister for creating an escape route for him.

“It is very pretty.”

“Right? Sister Lindsay, no, Baroness Conrad also received the same ring. Look.”

Irene grabbed Lindsay’s hand out to Raven.

“Ah, I, I…”

Lindsay was most ashamed of her hands because her hands were rough and held traces of callouses from her days as a maid. Sure enough, the princess’ expressions changed as they saw Lindsay’s rough hands. Compared to their white, fine hands, the hands of the ignorant, big-breasted concubine was…

“Hmm, it suits you very well.”

For the first time, Raven smiled. The smile exerted considerable influence on the ladies in various ways.

Although he was handsome, Raven gave a rather calm and cold first impression. But when he suddenly let loose a soft smile like a spring breeze, the atmosphere brightened and the princesses were momentarily mesmerized.

But it only lasted a short amount of time.

The princesses were shocked by the fact that his smile was directed towards Lindsay, a concubine of commoner status, rather than them, Ingrid, or even his sister.

And… the shock quickly flamed into envy.

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