The tension continues to simmer, and the Empress plots something.
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Episode 263. About 9 Months (22)
"A consolation drink."
The scene from that day replayed in my head.
[Well, let me know if you'd like to be comforted, again. We can have consolation drinks, I'm pretty good at making people feel better.]
Kyle had remembered the words I'd said to him in his room last year, when I had helped him out of his armour.
"Do you remember now?"
"How do you always come up with these things at the right moment?"
"I’ll take that as a compliment."
I smiled sheepishly.
"Fine, it's a compliment. But first, explain it to me. How the hell did you manage to finance changing the rumour like that?"
Kyle succinctly explained his negotiations with the Empress, and as I listened I marvelled once again at his handling of the situation.
Could I have come up with and executed such a tactic, negotiated with multiple parties, and gotten the results I wanted?
The answer was no.
Just being in the same room with enemies on all sides would’ve made it hard for me to make a rational decision.
He’d endured a lot of internal struggle for a long time about this. He must have been forced to subdue the maelstrom of emotions he was no doubt feeling in order to get to the point where he could discuss it so casually.
'He's probably been doing it for quite some time, I could never imagine doing that.'
He definitely hadn’t made it to his current position out of luck or simply because he had the Emperor's blood flowing in his veins.
After hearing Kyle's explanation, I jumped to my feet.
"Wait a minute. I'll go to the first floor and get some alcohol."
"Why? Don't you have some on the shelf over there that you were drinking earlier?"
I stopped short of the door and jerked my head around to look at him.
"Oh my God, how did you know? I haven't had a drink in ages. Did you smell the alcohol on me?"
"Slightly. But, that had more to do with it."
Kyle smiled lightly and jerked his chin towards the crystal glass I'd left sitting at the end of the table. There was a small amount of amber sericea liquor left at the bottom.
"Ah! Yes, that, haha. I only had two glasses before you got here… Hmm. But this liquor is..."
I walked over to the cabinet, pulled out the only liquor bottle on the shelf, and picked it up. But I hesitated for a moment before taking it to where he sat.
"Why, what's wrong with it?"
'Oh nothing, it's just a medicinal spirit called 'the liquor that opens doors at night', and it's a male aphrodisiac, so recommending it to you feels awkward.'
I couldn't bring myself to explain.
'Why do I keep thinking about it like that! That certainly wasn't Josh's intention when he gave it to me.'
A strange sense of defiance suddenly rose within me.
Was there really anything wrong with using it? It was just herbal alcohol. Its purpose was medicinal.*
In fact, from that perspective it felt even more odd to avoid it.
'Hmm... Well. I don't have to tell him everything I know about it!'
So, I decided to stick to Josh's stated intentions behind gifting me the alcohol.
"It's not that there's anything wrong with it, it's just that it's not the kind of alcohol they sell at the market. It's a fermented alcohol Josh made for me that's supposed to be good for my eyes since I've been using them a lot lately, so it might not be to your taste."
"Oh, so it's medicine. I don't want to prevent you from using it. Should we simply drink another time?"
I stood there. Even though he’d declined it so easily, after hearing him describe his negotiations with the Empress I really wanted to give him some comfort.
Hadn't I been the one to promise him a consolation drink in the first place?
My ancestors had taught me to keep my word....
"I thought a drink might do you some good, and I promised you a consolation drink."
Yes. It was only one drink… No matter how strong it was, it was only one glass... Right?
I wasn't going to pass this up!
I grabbed another crystal glass from the cabinet and strode over to him. Then I took my glass from the end of the table and poured a drink into his glass, and then mine.
I also brought over the cheese plate I had been using earlier, which had three pieces remaining, and set it in the middle of the table.
Then I raised my glass in the air.
"What’s that for?"
"A toast! Cheers to being consoled!"
We toasted in silence, and I downed my drink in one swift gulp.
'Ugh!' My throat burned.
Once again I couldn’t help but think to myself, 'For some reason, I feel like everything today is leading up to some huge conclusion.'
The alcohol tasted unfamiliar. But Kyle didn't dislike it.
On the contrary, the liquor seemed to travel down his esophagus and permeate his entire body in an instant. He was immediately aware of a heavy sensation forming in his body.
Perhaps because it was a medicinal drink, it acted differently than ordinary alcohol.
'What is this? This feeling... Am I drunk? No way.'
Kyle immediately dismissed the thought as being ridiculous, and looked at Tara across from him. Her flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes scanned his face curiously.
"Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Hmm, do you feel weird at all?"
"Are you asking if my vision has suddenly improved?"
"Oh, haha, I guess that's what it sounds like I'm asking, but no, hehe."
She laughed awkwardly as she said it. Her flushed cheeks and eyes caught his attention as they crinkled with laughter.
Her rosy cheeks framed her full red lips, glossy with alcohol, and he was consumed with the powerful urge to kiss her. The hand he had resting on the table jerked.
He could feel heat rising in his lower body.
'The last time I felt like this after my first drink was back when I couldn't use Aurore....'
Kyle pushed his glass aside and took a deep breath. Apparently, drinking under the pressure of his feelings for Tara had made him more sensitive.
'Shit. I shouldn't have accepted that drink.'
When he looked at the clock, it was 10:30 p.m.
After a moment's silence, she scrutinized his face.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"Well, you look uncomfortable. Hmm. What's wrong?"
Kyle decided he needed to stand up.
"Unfortunately it's getting late."
He deliberately clenched his fists tighter and stood up.
"What? Already? What if we don't get to see one another properly after today? If you don't catch the ringleader, how long will we have to stay like this?"
"Don't worry, I'll do everything in my power to catch him."
"Well. If you say you'll do it, I know you will.... Are you just going to leave?"
He looked up to see her looking at him, her head tilted in confusion. She had no idea what was wrong.
After taking a few slow breaths, he spoke again.
"It's... late, I should be going."
Kyle's words sounded stiff, even to himself, but he couldn't help it. The alcohol was making him aware of every nerve in his body, confusing him. He wanted to continue feeling like this, but he also felt compelled to leave immediately.
He felt like he was going to lose control of himself the second he let his guard down. What Kyle was the most afraid of at this moment was himself.
He turned and headed for the terrace, and Tara, unaware of what was wrong with him, ran after him, spreading her arms wide to block his path.
"What? You can't just walk away like that, Kyle. I won't see you for a long time after this, and we won't be able to contact one another.... You should at least say goodbye properly."
Kyle let out an internal groan and squeezed his eyes shut.
"Yeah. I suppose I should... say goodbye."
"Huh? What is it? Kyle, why are you acting so awkward today? Is it the alcohol?"
"Not at all."
"Then what is it? How to describe it... You're usually so at ease, so why are you so tense right now?"
"Ha! Me? Tense? No way."
She was staring up at him so innocently, and he had no idea how to explain his current condition.
'Is it possible that the Elias Library only has books about kissing and nothing else about men?'
The greenhouse of the Empress's Palace, Night.
Seated around a round table, the Empress and her ladies were leisurely sipping tea.
The ladies had been staying at the Palace for the past three days, so it was easy for them to gather in the greenhouse even at this late hour.
"Do you have any particular young ladies in mind, Your Majesty?"
That was Countess Simon, who had previously sent her 6th child, her daughter, to serve in the Empress's Palace as a servant.
The Empress, knowing the Countess's intentions all too well, laughed softly and shook her head gently.
"Shouldn't the Imperial House be more impartial than any other? I couldn't possibly nominate anyone based on those I personally host here. How could someone such as I, the head of the Palace household, be so unfair? And yet, I am still afraid my heart will be swayed towards those I know best."
The meaning was clear, support the Empress even more than you do now if you want something.
The Countess forced down the bile that rose in her throat and smiled even brighter.
"You're quite right, Your Majesty. Forgive this humble lady's impertinence."
"Impertinence? It's a fair enough question. By the way, how old is your eldest daughter this year, Countess?"
"Twenty-one, Your Majesty."
"Didn't her fiancé annul the marriage arrangement before the ceremony last year?"
The other two ladies at the table snickered and then quickly fanned themselves to conceal it.
The Empress smiled pleasantly as she regarded Countess Simon, who was now blushing with embarrassment.
"That's not a flaw. The Prince, being an illegitimate child, wouldn't dare to ascend the title of Crown Prince anyway…”
The ladies' eyes widened in surprise, but they quickly hid their expressions and agreed enthusiastically with the Empress.
"Yes, you are quite right, Your Majesty."
“Yes, indeed. A fault of that magnitude hardly even qualifies as such. I will keep an eye out for her once the Selection process begins, Countess.”
"Thank you. Your Majesty."
The Empress had been quite pleased with the outcome of the trial for the First Prince and her brother.
The prospect of there being a second trial six months later had been unnerving at first, but a letter from the Duke of Toulouse that she’d received shortly after the trial had reassured her.
[There is absolutely no need to worry, Your Majesty, as we have planned for everything.]
It had been a long time since she had seen her brother's handwriting so confident. The Empress knew that word had gotten out among the nobility that she was worried.
So she had deliberately arranged today's meeting, with a specific purpose behind it.
Sorry for the unexpected wait! Life happened. We published a lot of chapters at the start of October, but rest assured we have more chapters coming your way soon.
* The term used here 약주 'Yakju' used to be used to refer to all kinds of alcohol but now primarily refers to medicinal or herbal spirits. It's also worth noting that although they are called 'medicinal spirits' modern commercial versions of this alcohol do not contain significant amounts of medicinal herbs and they are seen more as 'folk medicine' than actual cures for disease by most of the Korean public.
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