Ch. 154 Mismatch (1)
After introducing herself to the servants of the palace, Elena met up with Carlisle to pay their respects to the Emperor and Empress. Carlisle wore his usual formal clothes, save for a cravat around his neck. She looked at him curiously, but then turned away as their eyes met. She still felt a bit embarrassed after their kiss at the training hall.
“Tie it for me.”
“I heard that other people’s wives do it every morning.”
“Who did you hear that from?”
“Please ask one of the maids to do it.”
Carlisle’s brow furrowed at Elena’s rejection.
“Why should I allow a maid to do it when my wife is perfectly capable?”
Elena paused, and breathed a low sigh. Then slowly, she admitted her inability.
“… I don’t know how to tie it.”
Carlisle’s eyes widened in surprise.
“You’ve never done it before?”
“There was no one for me to do it for. My father and brother are knights, and they usually wear their uniforms.”
The knights’ uniforms had standing collars, so there was no reason to wear a cravat. Even when her father and brother did have to wear one, they would ask one of the maids to do it, not Elena.
Carlisle’s mouth gently lifted upwards.
“Then I can be your first.”
“…I really don’t know how.”
“People might talk badly of me if they see an uneven cravat.”
“Then I’ll cut their throat.”
She was shocked by the casualness of his remarks. She couldn’t tell how much of it was true and how much was a joke.
“We have to go soon.”
“What does it matter?”
Carlisle’s response caught her off guard. She was about to refuse again, but she knew the futility of it and took the strip of cloth from Carlisle’s hand.
“I warned you.”
Carlisle slightly lowered his upper body, and she concentrated on fastening the cravat around his shirt collar. When she looked up, she saw that his gaze was fixed intently on her.
“…What are you thinking of?”
His response came out of nowhere, and Elena widened her eyes as she looked up at him. He spoke again, his voice like velvet.
“My wife is so beautiful.”
Elena’s fingertips felt shakier than before, and she suddenly became aware of his proximity to her. His breath tickled her forehead. She didn’t want him to notice her burning cheeks, so she hurriedly finished tying the cravat. It didn’t look as neat as a maid’s work, but it was acceptable enough.
Carlisle carefully stroked the cravat with a look of satisfaction.
“I should have married you sooner.”
Elena alternated looking between Carlisle and the cravat, and spoke with a perplexed look on her face.
“Because I did your cravat?”
“Yes. Maybe I’ll ask you to do it every morning.”
Elena sometimes really wondered what was going on in Carlisle’s head. He extended his hand towards her as a warm smile played across his face.
“Let’s go then.”
Elena and Carlisle arrived at the Emperor’s Palace in time for their meeting. The guard gave a deep bow and opened a massive door embellished with pure gold.
Beyond the doors was a lavish interior, and sitting inside was Emperor Sullivan, looking more sickly than before, and Empress Ophelia, a picture of elegant beauty. Elena remembered the rare plant she received from the seemingly generous Empress. Ophelia was not someone to be underestimated.
Sullivan held back a coughing fit behind his hand as he greeted Carlisle and Elena. A frown crossed Carlisle’s face.
“You look worse than before.”
“As you age, each day is different. There is nothing to worry about.”
Sullivan carelessly waved his hand, but Elena thought he did look sicklier.
“How was your night at the Imperial Palace, my dear?”
Elena blinked and turned to look at Sullivan’s face.
“Thanks to the care of Father and Mother, there was nothing lacking.”
It was a routine answer, but it didn’t seem to be the one he was looking for.
“Yes, my daughter-in-law can say all kinds of lovely words. But is it true that Carlisle gave you an enormous return gift? The palace is buzzing about it.”
Elena nodded as she recalled the small fortune Carlisle had given her. She was still embarrassed about it.
“Yes. Carlisle cares about me very much.”
Sullivan smiled knowingly.
“Haha, it’s no use persuading my son otherwise, isn’t it?”
Hearing this, Ophelia answered with a honeyed smile.
“It’s a blessing when a couple gets along well.”
“Just like us?”
Ophelia’s eyes glimmered like a snake, but the look had disappeared in an instant and no one noticed.
“Truly…it is a great blessing.”
However, Elena sensed something was wrong. Sullivan and Ophelia looked amiable on the surface, but somehow it felt as if they were treading on thin ice beneath them. Elena couldn’t quite put it into words. She soon gave up trying to gauge their mysterious relationship, and instead intended to watch them for now.
“I received the flowers that you sent today, Your Majesty.”
Elena’s words caught Sullivan and Carlisle’s eyes, and she continued.
“I hear that it is a rare plant only found in the Sibena Kingdom. The blooming flowers symbolizes harmony and fertility.”
If the plant was truly harmful, she had to make Ophelia say she was the one who sent them herself, so she could not claim otherwise later. The Empress’ eyes shimmered, but then she smiled and casually answered.
“Yes. When I heard there was such a plant, I immediately thought of you.”
“I don’t know how I could express my gratitude for sending me such a gift. Thank you, Your Majesty.”
Elena hid her true intentions, instead projecting the appearance of a simple-minded princess. Nothing would be better than taking her enemy off guard.
‘…It will be easier to make my move that way.’
Elena didn’t want the Empress to immediately be wary of her. Ophelia’s influence was greater in the Imperial Palace, and Elena had not yet established her own power.
An elegant smile graced Ophelia’s face.
“Oh, I didn’t realize you would like it so much. Would you like me to plant them all over the garden of the Crown Prince’s palace?”