Chapter 244 – Thank You Very Much
After all the guests arrived, Elena finally began the commencement of the meal. She stood up from the head of the table, holding her wine glass and thanking all those who gathered here tonight.
“Thank you all for accepting my sudden invitation. The food has been specially prepared, and I hope you will enjoy it.”
She lifted her wine glass, and everyone else lifted theirs in response. It was a graceful way for the ladies to elegantly communicate without hitting each other’s glasses. Elena smiled and made her closing comment.
“I hope everyone will have a good meal.”
Several of them called out “Yes, Your Highness!” and soon after, the room fell into comfortable conversation. Numerous servants appeared, carrying plates of food and setting them before the guests.
“Oh, isn’t this from Restaurant Shelly?”
“Really? I haven’t been able to make a reservation because it’s always full.”
The main chef today was from the most well-known establishment in the capital. However, even the chef hesitated at cooking at such short notice for a dinner party. It was through Carlisle’s efforts that he had been able to procure the chef for her.
— I’ll do anything for my wife.
Elena recalled Carlisle’s mischievous grin, and a smile came to her lips without her even realizing it. Compliments began to spread among the nobles during the various courses.
“Oh, I can feel the juices in my mouth.”
“The meat is divine.”
The popularity of the food among the guests caused Elena’s mood to rise. The nanny quietly approached Elena from behind and spoke.
“I have an important message.”
Elena nodded slightly, and the nanny leaned in closer and whispered in her ear.
“The Empress’ troops around the Crown Prince’s palace have been withdrawn.”
It had gone just as planned, and Elena smiled from indescribable joy.
“Thank you. Now try to get some rest.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
The nanny withdrew after delivering her message. Elena lifted her fork and knife and continued to enjoy her meal like the other women. The food looked delicious, and when she placed it in her mouth, it flowed richly down her throat. Everything was going smoothly, and she was able to enjoy her dinner with ease.
After-dinner refreshments included dessert and tea. Elena was engaged in light conversation with the guests, when she noticed Yulia leaving the banquet hall and going to the terrace alone. She had been wondering about the woman’s goodwill towards her throughout the evening.
Elena did not suffer curiosity for long, and she politely excused herself before following Yulia towards the terrace. Once Elena was outside, the revelry of the banquet hall faded away, and the terrace was comfortably peaceful.
At Elena’s voice, Yulia looked back.
“Oh, Your Highness.”
As Yulia bowed her head to pay her respects, Elena drew closer.
“Why are you out there? You haven’t spoken to anyone in the banquet hall.”
“I don’t enjoy interacting with people very much.”
Yulia did not get the nickname “The beauty without a smile” for nothing. She had a reticent nature and wasn’t as involved with the social chess game, but with her stunning looks and fashion sense, many young ladies followed her as an icon.
“You accepted my invitation despite that.”
For a moment, Yulia’s proud face showed a slightly embarrassed look. Elena tried to phrase her next words as politely as possible.
“In truth, I did not expect you to accept my invitation. Moreover, your praise for my dress was intentional, correct?”
“May I ask why you did that?”
Whatever Yulia’s intentions, everything she had done helped Elena, and Elena was curious why. Yulia demurely lowered her eyes.
“If you noticed, Your Highness, then I won’t hide it. The reason I did it was because of a friend…but I cannot name them.”
Elena was inwardly surprised by Yulia’s answer. She never expected it would be connected to a friend of Yulia’s.
Yulia hesitated for a moment, but soon took a deep breath and continued.
“The Second Prince invited me to his party. However, I never liked being around many people, so I never went.”
An ominous feeling stirred in Elena’s stomach. She had been to Redfield’s party before, and knew what it was like. However, she continued to listen to Yulia’s story without interrupting her.
“The Second Prince’s parties are very popular, and my friend truly wanted to go. She asked me to come with her. I said no. If I had known what would have happened, I would have followed her…and it is still my greatest regret not having done so.”
Elena felt numb as she asked her next question.
“My friend became drunk…and was raped by many men.”
Elena’s eyes widened in shock, as Yulia’s face crumpled at the pain of the memory.
“My friend went to the Empress to tell her story, but the Empress threatened to destroy her family if she spoke.”
Elena knew Redfield was scum of the earth, but he was more contemptible than she thought. Elena herself had only been able to avoid danger because of her hidden skills as a soldier. Her hands tightened into fists.
“Then, in the middle of the night in my father’s study, I heard that the Crown Prince’s and the Empress’ soldiers were fighting. Later on I received your dinner invitation, and I could guess what your plans were.”
“I can’t change much…but I want to stop the Second Prince from inheriting the throne somehow. That’s why I came here to add my strength to you, Your Highness, no matter how small it may be.”
Elena clasped Yulia’s hand, which had been trembling during the time she told her story. Yulia’s hands were cold. Elena didn’t know if it was because of fear of the Empress, or distress from recalling those memories, but…the important thing was that it had taken the woman tremendous courage to come here.
Elena looked into Yulia’s eyes and spoke in a warm voice.
“Your presence at the dinner was of enormous benefit. I heard the news that the Empress’ soldiers withdrew. I know that telling your friend’s story must have been difficult, so thank you.”
Yulia nodded silently, her eyes full of emotion. Elena could imagine the guilt she was experiencing, and Elena herself could still remember the burden of Mirabelle’s death in her last life. Elena was able to sympathize with Yulia’s feelings even more now.
“Leave the rest to me. I will take advantage of this opportunity.”
Yulia thought that her actions did not deserve that much praise. Although Elena had been trying to comfort her, Yulia only became even more overwhelmed, and she spoke in a tearful voice.
“…Thank you very much.”
Elena could sense that Yulia’s hands felt a little warmer.
“When I first saw you, I had a good feeling, even though I didn’t know why. And the dress you’re wearing tonight is beautiful. I mean it.”
Yulia’s voice was choked with emotion, and Elena looked a little embarrassed.
“Thank you for saying that. In truth, my sister chose my dress for me. I’m sure she’ll be happy when she finds out that Lady Necrensi praised her.”
Upon hearing this, Yulia only ended up crying even more. Elena pulled the woman towards her and embraced her weeping form. Tears streamed down Yulia’s cheeks, and she murmured in Elena’s arms.
“Thank you, Your Highness. Really…Thank you.”
She felt she had done nothing to deserve this kind treatment. However, she was greatly comforted by having someone listen to her personal story.
And so, Elena hugged Yulia until her tears ceased.
The dinner ended in grand success. Although it was the first time Elena and Yulia had a proper conversation, they felt as if they had formed a deep bond with each other. Elena saw her off at her carriage so no one else would see that she had been crying.
Afterwards, Elena said farewell to the other guests one-by-one. Before she knew it, the final group of ladies approached, headed by Stella at the front.
“We will be leaving now, Your Highness.”
“Please wait a moment, Countess Viviana.”
Stella looked at Elena with a puzzled eye.
“I would like to have a private word with you before we go.”
“Why, I’m honored, Your Highness.”
Stella gave a radiant smile, but Elena could sense that it was not heartfelt. The reason was obvious—Elena knew about Stella’s secret son. Elena wanted to keep Stella on her side, but their relationship was only held by threat of blackmail. Elena also kept her guard around Stella, concerned that the countess may just decide to tear her down and cover up her secret altogether.
And yet, Elena had a change of heart after speaking to Yulia. While this wasn’t true with everyone…gaining someone’s sincere trust was a powerful tool. Stella had already helped Elena several times, including tonight. Elena wanted to at least offer her some genuine counsel. The countess’ future may be bleak…and only Elena knew of it.
Stella looked backed towards her followers.
“You all may go back first. I will talk with Her Highness privately.”
The ladies who stood behind Stella looked downcast.
“If it is not urgent, we can outside the palace for you, Countess Viviana.”
“Yes. We don’t want to go alone in the carriage without you.”
Stella answered with a coolly straight face.
“I’m tired too, so I’ll return to my mansion after I finish speaking with my friend, Her Highness. It’s late, so it’s better to part here.”
“If that is your wish. I will have a tea party at my mansion soon, so we’ll see you then.”
“Yes. I’ll meet you then.”
Stella separated from her followers and approached to Elena.
“Follow me, please.”
Elena and Stella moved to a quiet place where they could talk alone.