Ch. 144 I’ll Only Say It Once (1)
The next person Elena approached at the reception was Countess Stella Viviana, one of the most important social figures in the capital. Stella was a potential enemy, as Elena had been forced to blackmail Stella about her hidden son. It was because of this exploitation that Elena was able to become crown princess, and she was uneasy about it.
Elena easily found the countess, as she was the one with the most ladies gathered around her. Stella greeted Elena with a radiant smile when she noticed she was approaching.
“Oh, thank you for coming all the way here, Your Highness.”
Stella’s words drew the attention of the other ladies, and soon after they all greeted her with a bow.
“Hail the Crown Princess. Eternal glory to the Ruford Empire.”
Elena still found it awkward when everyone bowed to her this way, but she returned the smile with no hint of discomfort.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you all. I came to see the Countess Viviana, and found you all here.”
“Oh goodness, I didn’t realize the Crown Princess was looking for me. I’ll have a quick chat with her and join you other ladies again.”
Stella replied confidently, as if she were acquainted with Elena. The other ladies smiled at the two of them.
“Yes, please return, Countess.”
“Congratulations on your wedding today, Your Highness.”
The women gave their chorus, and Elena and Stella accepted their words with bright smiles. They both headed outside the hall towards to an open-air terrace. It was already sunset, and the cool spring breeze blew pleasantly across their faces. They were they only two souls on there, but Stella kept her polite smile on her face.
“What did you want to talk to me about, Your Highness?”
Elena was curious at how calm Stella remained, as if their last meeting had never happened. After contemplating how to begin the conversation, Elena decided to be straightforward.
“I didn’t expect a warm welcome from you.”
“Is there any reason why I shouldn’t be glad to see you, Your Highness?”
The question might have seemed absurd. Elena clarified herself, as she wondered what on earth Stella was thinking.
“We didn’t leave the first meeting on the best of terms.”
“You kept your promise to stay quiet, so I decided to forget it.”
At Stella’s reply, Elena understood once again that the most dangerous opponents were not the ones who were outwardly terrifying. The countess’ reputation as a shrewd woman was not for nothing. Stella already knew that open hostility towards the Crown Princess was not to her benefit.
‘But she can’t help but be wary of me.’
There was no way anyone would be comfortable having their with having their deepest secrets exposed. Another saying crossed Elena’s mind.
‘Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.’
Stella was keeping her enemy, Elena, closer. But so was Elena. She couldn’t let Stella alone, but since the Countess had made no movements yet, Elena couldn’t yet touch her. Elena tried to appeal to her heart this time, but the countess was more skilled than she thought, and she couldn’t help but admire the other woman. She didn’t know if Stella would stab her in the back, but no relationship began with complete faith. Elena decided to keep Stella around for now and, if possible, make her her ally.
“I worried that you may have your doubts about me, so I’m relieved that you trust me.”
“Of course. There’s no one on this continent who doesn’t believe in the Crown Princess of the Ruford Empire. I also worried that you may be reluctant about me, so I’m happy to hear that you trust me as well.”
It was a pleasant remark with proper flattery. If Ruford Empire were as free as the Freegrand Kingdom, Stella could have made an excellent ambassador in other countries. It was a regretful waste of talent. In any case, though Stella’s true intentions were unknown, she was not hostile to Elena.
Elena continued with a soft smile.
“It’s a pleasure to see you again. Please come to the palace sometime after today’s reception. I’ll send you an invitation personally.”
“Oh, it’s an honor, Your Highness.”
Both were feeling out the other while guarding their true intentions. And funnily enough, both of them were aware of it, but pretended to not know anything.
After the short conversation with Stella, Elena headed inside the reception hall again. Stella followed her and then gave her a bow.
“I will see you later, Your Highness.”
Stella parted with Elena and returned to her flock of noblewomen. While Elena watched her walk away and considered who she should meet next. Before she could make a decision, however, there was the sound of footsteps moving closer to Elena.
Elena immediately noticed them, but feigned ignorance as to not arouse suspicion of her abilities. The sound of footsteps stopped, and a voice spoke.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you again, Your Highness.”
Elena turned around and saw the Freegrand ambassador before her.
“Oh, you are…”
“My name is Log Ashmore.”
Elena took in her neatly pressed uniform.
She was unsure if the ambassador was a knight, but she could easily spot a swordsman’s posture.
“No, it’s just Log, Your Highness.”
Her permission to let Elena use her first name meant that she wanted to be closer.
“Very well, Log.”
Elena accepted without protest. She was particularly interested in becoming acquainted with the Freegrand delegation, particularly for Mirabelle’s sake. At Elena’s use of her name, Log’s expression brightened.
“I saw you at the wedding, and was truly blown away by your beauty, Your Highness. The wedding dress was awe-inspiring as well.”
“I’m happy you think so. My younger sister contributed many ideas towards it.”
“Ah, she is quite the talented one.”
Elena swelled with pride at Log’s compliment. Elena tried to restrain herself because of her position as Crown Princess, but if anyone praised Mirabelle, she couldn’t help but feel happy.
Elena smiled faintly, then spoke in a low voice.
“Is there anything else you would like to tell me?”
“Oh. I heard that you gifted the Freegrand fabric from the delegation to another noblewomen.”
Elena had promised it to Marissa. It seemed that the story had quickly spread, and Elena nodded lightly.
“If I may, I would like to gift you another fabric personally, Your Highness.”
“Yes, Your Highness. I hope you will enjoy it.”
Elena knew that in all kingdoms, gifts given to the state could be re-gifted to other nobles. However, a meeting and promise of a personal gift was completely different. Elena’s red eyes shone. Human relationships were quite simple, and politics could be easily be summed up as “Give and take.”
‘Log wants to give me fabric, so what does she want to take?’
Elena wanted to know her intentions, and so she accepted Log’s offer and made sure they had the opportunity to speak again.
“I cannot possibly refuse your sincerity. Then I will make sure to call you before you leave the Imperial Palace.”
“Yes, thank you! Your Highness!”
Log’s tense expression softened to relief, and Elena watched her with a curious eye.