Ch. 153 …What A Wicked Man
Elena had no intention of making a move at the moment, but now that the Empress had, she couldn’t allow things to remain the same. Elena slowly rose from her seat, her blood-colored eyes shining.
“The maid who brought the plant looks a little suspicious to me. What do you think of her?”
“I feel the same way.”
“Yes. There can be none of the Empress’ people here.”
I was sure that Carlisle already knew, but there was a mole hiding among us. From now on, many things would change. I was the mistress of this palace.
After a moment’s consideration, I opened the door to the parlor, and a maid who I recognized approached and quickly bowed to me.
“Is there anything you wish, Your Highness?”
“Get me Sir Zenard.”
“Ah! Yes, My Lady!”
As expected, the maid seemed to know who Zenard was. After several visits to the palace, he was the one Elena encountered the most among Carlisle’s subordinates save for Kuhn. Zenard was one of Carlisle’s closest aides and she was familiar with him, making him the right person to speak to once she had just entered the Imperial family.
As Zenard’s neat, white-haired appearance floated in her mind, she calculated her future moves in her head one by one.
‘Now, shall we move on?’
Several minutes passed before Zenard arrived to the parlor room. As soon as he saw Elena’s face, he bowed politely.
“Hail to the Crown Princess. Eternal glory to the Ruford Empire.”
“We will meet many times in the future, so you can omit such formal greetings between us.”
“Oh no. I must follow standards.”
While his stubborn tone was similar to Kuhn’s, there was still a distinction in their personalities. Kuhn carried an air of indifference to him, while Zenard was steadfast to convention, and Elena knew not to ask him again to skip the formalities. She nodded knowingly and continued.
“I want to meet the people that work in the Crown Prince’s palace. I’d like to gather everyone together, and I can think only of you who could do this.”
“Ah, is that so?”
He lifted his head proudly. In the past he had looked at Len with eyes heavy with envy and burden, but his impression of Elena was quite admirable.
‘The difference in his reaction when I am Carlisle’s guard and his wife is enormous.’
Perhaps that was why there was a strange feeling of distance between them. When Elena was a knight, Morgan was the only one who treated her with a kind smile, contrary to his intimidating looks. She suddenly wondered if he was doing well, but she was pressed for other matters.
“I would like you to arrange a place where I can introduce everyone to my head lady-in-waiting.”
Zenard looked at the nanny standing next to Elena with new eyes. The head lady-in-waiting and the head butler always played a large role on their master’s side.
The nanny, who had been keeping a quiet position next to Elena, politely introduced herself first.
“Hello. I’m the nanny who had looked after Her Highness when she was a child. I’m honored to be the head lady-in-waiting, so please take care of me.”
“I look forward to working with you. As you may have already heard, my name is Zenard. Please feel free to ask me for help anytime in the future.”
Satisfied with each other’s greetings, Elena continued.
“I’d like to take a look at everyone before I send my regards to the Emperor. Is that possible?”
“Yes. I’ll have as many people as possible attend.”
Zenard gave another bow in acknowledgment. The final task was to examine the plant Ophelia had sent. If it truly was poisonous to the body, they could feign ignorance and disguise it as a weakness. Elena would have assigned this to Kuhn, but he was still at Blaise mansion. She pointed to the plant on the table and spoke to Zenard.
“This was a gift from the Empress. Can you find out exactly what this plant is from the Sibena kingdom?”
Zenard’s eyes flashed. His suspicions also seemed to have been aroused.
“I’ll take it right away and find out.”
“No, I’ll leave this plant where I pass by often.”
“But if it’s dangerous—”
“All the more reason to.”
Zenard stare at her nonplussed, and Elena smiled and spoke quietly.
“With this, we will be able to find out who the Empress’ spies are in the Crown Prince’s palace. They will lower their guard if I appear to act careless.”
He was stunned at her reply, then he spoke in admiration.
“You truly are a crown princess.”
Elena smiled sheepishly at his excessive praise.
Whether it was a favor or a grudge, one had to return whatever they had received. This time however, she planned to act differently.
‘I don’t have to expose my claws yet.’
Elena needed to conceal her true intent and watch the Empress’ reaction. And if the opportunity came, she would strike first.
“I will go quickly and gather the servants of the Crown Prince’s palace.”
Zenard made to exit the room, but he suddenly stopped and turned toward Elena with a cautious look.
“Ah, Your Highness…”
“I’ve threatened everyone to keep away from the Crown Prince’s private training hall, so you don’t have to worry about anyone interrupting you.”
Elena blinked for a moment, and then her cheeks flamed as she realized what he meant. She thought she glimpsed Zenard when Carlisle kissed her this morning. It had completely slipped her mind after she received the plant from Empress Ophelia.
‘I can’t believe it…’
Outwardly she was calm, but inwardly she wanted to crawl into a mouse hole and never leave. Other people might not give second thought to their love affair, but Elena was so embarrassed that she wanted to die. The nanny looked curiously at Elena.
“Training hall? What happened there?”
Thankfully, Zenard had the sense to shake his head.
“Nothing. I’ll take my leave now.”
Zenard left with a look of satisfaction on his face, blissfully oblivious of Elena’s feelings. Elena fanned her hot face with her palm, and the nanny ventured with her question again.
“What happened at the private training hall?”
Elena avoided her gaze and stared out the window. She may have a place to train now, but she suspected that rumors of the two sharing a passionate love life would spread far. She suddenly remembered when Carlisle leaned down to whisper in her ear.
—…Last question. It doesn’t matter what the method is, right?
It seemed that Elena still needed a lot of mental preparation before she could practice sword fighting as much as she wanted. Her face glowed red as she remembered the hot pressure of Carlisle’s lips against hers.
‘…What a wicked man.’
Zenard quickly gathered all the servants that worked in the Crown Prince’s palace. An assembly was expected with a new mistress in charge, but it happened much sooner than anyone anticipated, as it was only a day after Elena rose to the position as Crown Princess.
There was a rumble of feet as the crowd gathered, and Zenard confirmed to Elena that everyone was present.
“We are ready, Your Highness.”
They were assembled at an open garden outside the Crown Prince’s palace, as it was difficult to accommodate them all in one place indoors. Elena slowly ascended the high platform Zenard prepared, taking in the view of a larger crowd than she expected. The servants all gathered their voices together in unison.
“Hail to the Crown Princess. Eternal glory to the Ruford Empire!”
The voices sounded quite distant as everyone spoke together. Elena turned her head to survey the group and spoke in a calm voice.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you all. From this day on I will manage the palace, and I hope you will obey my will.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“Then, I will introduce my chosen head lady-in-waiting. From now on, treat her as such.”
For the servants of the palace, the head lady-in-waiting was their immediate superior, who they would encounter more than the crown princess. Everyone’s attention turned to the aged woman as she rose to the platform. She had a gracious air about her, but there was a sense she was not to be trifled with either.
“Pleasure to meet you all. From today on, I will be the head lady-in-waiting. If you don’t break the rules, there will be no need for embarrassment, so please do your part well.”
Everyone bowed to the nanny’s calm charisma.
“Yes, head lady-in-waiting.”
Elena watched with a look of satisfaction, and she studied each of the servants’ faces gathered there. Some of them she had already met several times before. And…
She spotted the face of the maid who brought her the plant to the parlor room. Elena pointed towards the maid.
“What’s your name?”
“Oh, I am Asabe, Your Highness.”
“Very well, Asabe. I would like you to serve as my personal maid starting today.”
Asabe’s eyes widened in surprise, then she quickly lowered her head.
“Thank you, Your Highness!”
Elena kept her face outwardly smooth, but she had already secretly exchanged glances with her nanny. Elena may be able to find out more about Asabe and if she was secretly associated with the Empress. If the maid was confirmed as a spy, it was not yet known whether Elena would remove her, but the important thing was that she could be useful one day.
‘Even though she may be a spy, it doesn’t mean I have to keep her away. I can bring her closer to me and leak false information.’
To do so, it was urgent she find out who were her friends and who were her enemies. It was likely that many of the servants here were not only spies for the Empress, but of other nobles and even of other kingdoms.
‘It’s impossible to not be watched at all…’
Elena quietly looked at all the servants gathered here.
‘…The more you figure out who your enemy is, the better you can make your move.’
First she would look into Asabe, the first to catch her suspicion. Elena had taken her first step in her life as part of the Imperial Family.
In the Empress’ palace, Ophelia lounged in a high-backed chair with a pipe resting in her hand. A spiral of smoke drifted in the air, when someone approached her silently from behind.
Ophelia turned her head at the low voice. Cassana, her head lady-in-waiting, stood before her.
“The gift was delivered to the Crown Prince’s palace.”
“…Is that so?”
Ophelia’s reaction was muted, however, and Cassana spoke carefully.
“They didn’t notice at all, so I don’t believe they’re the smartest type.”
“It’s a bit disappointing that she didn’t even notice a simple gift.”
At those words, the corner of Ophelia’s mouth tipped upward. She wanted to test Elena’s reaction, and so she baited her with the plant. The Empress could’ve tried something more elaborate, of course, but for now a little taste to celebrate the arrival of the Crown Princess would suffice. If Elena didn’t notice anything about the plant, that was fine. It wouldn’t be good for Ophelia if Elena were to get pregnant before Sullivan died. Ophelia wondered how they would have reacted if they noticed the scheme quickly.
She placed her pipe back on her lips and relaxed, like a fisherman waiting for a fish to take the bait.
“…I look forward to seeing what the new family member will be like.”